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Solemn burial

27 September 2013

FOR the past three years, archaeologists, involving more than 200 local volunteers, have been excavating around the west end of Polesworth Abbey, in the north of Birmingham diocese. "The abbey is thought to have been founded as long ago as 827," the Vicar of Polesworth, the Revd Philip Wells, says, "but the excavations last year left us wondering if the foundation might be quite a lot earlier."

There have been some significant finds - not only medieval floor-tiles, but also Saxon jewellery; and, in September last year, the diggers "came face to face with ancestors who were buried in a forgotten area of the churchyard many centuries ago". There was evidence of Saxon dwellings, and as Saxons would not have built on known burial places, the remains could be from much earlier, even the Roman occupation.

They are now awaiting the result of radio-carbon tests to determine whether the bones are from the ninth, tenth, or 11th centuries. Meanwhile, these early ancestors have been laid to rest for a second time. On the Polesworth website (www.digtheabbey.co.uk), there is a video of the moving reburial ceremony.

A line of parishioners processed into the church carrying large boxes, draped in purple cloth, and laid them on tables at the front of the nave. To the sound of music, the bones were blessed with holy water and incense, and sonorous words from the funeral service were read over them before the boxes were carried out again to the churchyard. The choir sang the hymn "May flights of angels lead you on your way," as the boxes were placed in a large grave. Then everyone took turns in filling it in.

Flowers were placed on it, and there is now a rota of people to ensure that flowers will always be put on the grave. The abbey is currently waiting for the results of the radio-carbon dating. When they eventually come, Mr Wells says, the abbey will ask the Chancellor of the diocese for permission to erect a memorial, which will probably include some of the worked stones uncovered in the dig.

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