By Jennifer N Crangle
Published online in Past Horizons (2013)
Introduction: The Rothwell Charnel Chapel and Ossuary Project has been established between the Department of Archaeology, at the University of Sheffield and Rothwell Holy Trinity Church, Northamptonshire. The church houses one of only two known surviving and in situ medieval ossuaries in England.
Charnel chapels are medieval ecclesiastic buildings, located within the confines of the cemetery of ecclesiastical complexes (including abbeys, cathedrals, hospitals, monasteries and parish churches). They were constructed in England from the early 13th century to the Reformation in the mid-16th century but the height of construction occurred in the 1300’s. There are two forms of charnel chapel: free-standing, two-storeyed buildings and those built below churches. Both structural types primarily consist of a semi-subterranean vault or chamber for the purpose of storing disturbed and displaced bones from the surrounding graveyards. Free-standing examples had a chapel built directly on top of these partially underground chambers and in the majority of cases those charnel chapels built below churches were located under chapels within the church.