The discovery of a body inside a church memorial has caused amazement in the world of archaeology and surprised experts.
Michael Eastham, a conservator of sculpture has been working on the memorial in a Herefordshire Church for nearly two years but was taken aback when a mysterious coffin was discovered jammed inside the tomb-chest.
“We could not work out what it was when we first took the stone panels from the front of the memorial,” said Michael. “We thought it might be a layer of slate but as we explored further we realised it was a lead coffin. It’s the first time in more than thirty years as a Conservator that this has ever happened.”
Mr Eastham, a highly regarded Conservator, who has worked in buildings all over the country, carefully removed the lead coffin for examination from the Grandison Memorial in St Bartholomew’s Church at Much Marcle, a village on the Herefordshire border with Worcestershire and Gloucestershire.
Originally it was feared the coffin had been hidden during the construction of the tomb in the late 14th century or possibly even added at a later date. It has now been decided that it is almost certainly the coffin and remains of Blanche Mortimer whose memorial it is, wife of Sir Peter Grandison and daughter of Roger Mortimer, the powerful noble who had Edward II murdered and was the de facto ruler of England for three years before being himself overthrown by Edward’s eldest son, Edward III.
Blanche was born around 1316 at Wigmore Castle in Herefordshire, and was the youngest child of Sir Roger Mortimer and Joan de Geneville. She became the wife of Peter de Grandison , but died in 1347. They had one son, Otto.
The tomb is crowned by a superb effigy of Blanche Mortimer. In his book, ‘England’s Thousand Best Churches’, Simon Jenkins describes it as “an image as lovely as any bequeathed by a medieval church”. The memorial is regarded as one of the finest in the country and the fact that it has lasted more than six hundred years before work needed doing is a testament to the original workmanship and material used.
Until the discovery of the body, it was believed that memorials were built over or close to where the body had been buried under the floor of the church. Sometimes memorials were built or at least work started before the person had died. Michael Eastham said the best bit of his work was in not dealing with bodies, a view his extraordinary discovery has forced him to question. The coffin has been returned to where it came from but with stainless steel supports inserted.
Since the discovery of the body, the work has been filmed to make sure a clear record is kept of the surprise findings. “St Bartholomew’s is a stunning church anyway, the building dating from the early 13th Century,” added Paddy Benson, the Archdeacon of Hereford. “We felt that keeping as good a record as we can for future generations would be worthwhile because if Michael Eastham has done his work well it could be another seven hundred years before anyone gets a chance to look inside again.”
Source: Hereford Diocese