Monday, May 11, 2009

Question from Taylor - Graveyard outside St. Peters ad Vincula, etc.

I have a couple questions, I am not sure if anyone can help me. These are all rather morbid questions, I am just too curious...

1. I have read on here there was a graveyard outside of St Peters ad Vincula back in the day, was in torn down? Were the bodies left there? What kind of monarch would authorize the destruction of a graveyard?

2. Are the bones of Anne Boleyn, Jane Grey, Katherine Howard, etc... buried in some sort of vault or are they just buried beneath the floor in the ground?

3. I have visisted Westminster abbey quite a few times, and I just do not understand how that many people can be buried there. Like for example Mary and Elizabeth, their shrine is this big thing above ground, are their caskets buried under ground or are they enclosed within the sculpture?

I think the reason I am so fascinated by this is beacuse to me all of these people from history seem almost... fictional to me, like their stories are so interesting and I've read so many books about them that I can't seem to wrap my head around the fact that they are real and they existed... haha that sounds dumb since I know they were real. Anyways, thanks for the help!

[Ed. note - The second and third questions have already been discussed in the threads below]


PhD Historian said...

I do not know specifically whether anyone was ever buried outside on the grounds near the chapel of St Peter-ad-Vincula, but there are a few points to consider in that regard:

Burial in the pre-Reformation era (i.e., before the 1530s) was expected to take place in consecrated ground. Being buried in un-consecrated ground was sometimes thought to impede eventual resurrection. But was any of the ground surrounding St Peters ever consecrated?

Even if there was once a small cemetery adjacent to the chapel, it does not strike me as at all unusual that it is no longer there. The Tower is a functioning crowded site, and many changes have been made over the years to accommodate new uses. So it does not seem to me extraordinary that any cemetery that may have existed was eventually put to other uses. After all, there are hundreds of ancient churches in and around London that once had large cemeteries attached to them, most of which are now covered over by other forms of construction and usage. I can think immediately of one small church, All Hallows On The Wall, that essentially sits on a traffic island in east London. A church has occupied that location since the 12th century, but no evidence of any cemetery remains. All is covered over by asphalt and concrete. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of other examples from throughout London and the UK.

I seem to recall having read somewhere that past archaeological digs in the moat surrounding the curtain wall of the Tower once revealed a number of haphazard burials that were eventually identified as heretics, Jews, and such who were ineligible for burial in consecrated ground. Just a stray thought ....

PhD Historian said...

Ah ha! I just found a series of engravings from the 18th century that do depict gravemarkers adjacent to the south wall of the chapel. See especially the second engraving:

So apparently the cemetery was put to other uses in later years, principally paved walkways.

Roland H. said...

Yes, there was a graveyard outside St. Peter's church in medieval/Tudor times. Henry Wriothesley's Chronicle (section on Anne Boleyn' fall) specifically mentions that the men accused with Anne (Norris, Smeaton, Brereton, and Weston) were buried immediately outside the chapel, while Anne and her brother George (owing to their rank) were interred inside.

Interestingly enough, the 1597 survey map of the Tower does NOT show any tombstones. The surveyors apparently left them out, or there actually were none left intact when the survey was done.

But in a nutshell, that area of lawn was indeed used as a parish church burial ground back then.

Elizabeth M. said...

I also have seen that three of the men--Brereton, Smeaton, and Norris-- were buried outside the chapel. I read that at least two of them shared a common grave, and that the graves were unmarked, so there would be no gravestones.