A GRAVE was emptied on Holy Monday in Hyde, Winchester.
St Bartholomew's, Hyde, is believed to be the final resting
place of King Alfred the Great. The PCC recommended the opening,
carried out on 25 March, of the unmarked grave, after three years
of research, to counter the risk of theft or vandalism. Speculation
about the site increased in the wake of the discovery of the
remains of Richard III in Leicester (
News, 8 February).
The excavation was carried out with the authority and on the
advice of the Chancellor of the diocese of Winchester, Judge
Christopher Clark QC. It was conducted by three experienced
archaeologists, who discovered skeletal remains. The remains have
been removed for safe storage, in accordance with guidelines from
English Heritage. No church funds were spent on the work, which was
financially supported by Hyde900, a residents' group. A television
company was present at the excavation.
Before work began, the Bishop of Basingstoke, the Rt Revd Peter
Hancock, led prayers at the grave. Canon Paul Townsend, of the
Roman Catholic diocese of Portsmouth, was also present.
"Our chief concern this week has been to ensure that the
exhumation of human remains from a consecrated Christian burial
site has been fulfilled in a reverent and dignified manner," said
the Rector of St Bartholomew's, the Revd Cliff Bannister, who was
present throughout the work.
A spokesman for the diocese of Winchester, Nick Edmonds, said
that there was "widespread interest in the situation", but that
nothing more could be said about the nature or whereabouts of the
remains. Judge Clark's order imposed a confidentiality measure, for
reasons of security. Mr Edmonds said that no application had yet
been made to carry out any scientific investigation, but that such
a request could be made to the Consistory Court of the diocese,
possibly by St Bartholomew's or Hyde900. "Whatever happens, the
remains will stay in the care and protection of the Church and the
consistory court until they are reinterred," he said.
King Alfred was buried in Winchester's old minster in 899, but
his remains have been moved several times since then. They were
buried at Hyde Abbey in 1110, which was destroyed during the
Dissolution. It is thought that the remains may have been reburied
at St Bartholomew's after the Abbey was excavated in the 19th