The University of Leicester team has confirmed that they have found the medieval Grey Friars Church – the burial place of Richard III.
The first two trenches dug by Leicester’s archaeologists revealed tiled passageway floors at right angles to each other which are probably the remains of a cloister. A cloister is a rectangular open space, surrounded by covered walkways, often built alongside a church that has a monastic community. Friars would walk around the cloister, deep in thought or prayer, whilst remaining dry.
If the floors revealed by the first two trenches represented two sides of the cloister, then it was believed that the large wall on the third side of the potential cloister could be the church itself. Over the weekend the team dug a third trench to the east of the first two trenches to see if the wall extended.
The archaeologists also discovered a solid mortar floor between the two walls. The third trench not only confirmed that the wall extended but also the presence of a second similar thick wall, around 7.5 metres to the north. This is the width one would expect in a medieval friary church.
Lead archaeologist Richard Buckley, Co-Director of University of Leicester Archaeological Services, said in a statement: “The discoveries so far leave us in no doubt that we are on the site of Leicester’s Franciscan Friary, meaning we have crossed the first significant hurdle of the investigation.
“It is remarkable that the third trench has now made us certain that we have located the Friary church – not only a huge step forward in the search for the remains of Richard III, but also important new evidence for one of Leicester’s major religious buildings, lost for over 400 years.
“We now think we have evidence for a two metre wide, north-south passageway which originally had a tiled floor. This may be a cloister walk on one side of a cloister garth or courtyard. At right angles to this is an east-west aligned building some five metres wide, again with evidence for a tiled floor.
“To the north of it there seems to have been an open space, but then another substantial east-west building represented by a robbed wall around one and a half metres thick. This wall is a candidate for the south wall of the church, so on Saturday a third trench was laid out in an adjacent car park to see if it continued to the east. After modern layers had been machined off, this wall was indeed picked up, together with another one around 7.5 metres to north, with a mortar floor (probably originally tiled) in between them.
“The size of the walls, the orientation of the building, its position and the presence of medieval inlaid floor tiles and architectural fragments makes this almost certainly the church of the Grey Friars.
“The next step – which may include extending the trenches – will seek to gain more information on the church in the hope that we can identify the location of the choir and high altar. Finding the choir is especially important as this is where Richard III is recorded as having been buried.
“At the beginning of the project, I cannot say I was completely confident about finding the remains of the Friary, let alone getting closer to the presumed burial place of Richard III. The trenches could easily have missed the structures we have found, had they been located differently, or we could have found that the evidence had already been destroyed by later development on the site.
“The whole team has been fired up by the project and we are extremely excited by the prospect of further discoveries over the next week or so which may take us closer to our goal.
“With or without the burial place of Richard III, the investigation has been extremely rewarding and makes a significant contribution in terms of telling the story of medieval Leicester. I am delighted that the University of Leicester is playing a pivotal role in the telling of that story.”
It was also announced today that the site will be open to the public on Saturday, September 8, from 11am to 2pm, which will allow visitors to see for themselves the work being done on the archaeological dig in Leicester.
“The level of interest generated by this excavation has been amazing, and people understandably want to see for themselves the fascinating work which is being carried out,” said Assistant City Mayor Piara Singh Clair. “With the support of the University of Leicester and the Richard III Society, we’re very pleased to be able to offer people the chance to see the site, and get a closer look at some of the finds made so far.
Richard Taylor, director of corporate affairs at the University of Leicester, added: “The search for Richard III is one of the most exciting projects the University of Leicester has led.
“Members of the public have been hugely supportive of the search and have sent many kind messages to the university.
“It’s very important that people are given the opportunity to see the work for themselves.”
The site will be accessible from Greyfriars itself, and admission is free. Advance booking is not needed, although some queueing may be needed if large numbers of visitors arrive. There will also be a small display of some of the finds discovered at the site.