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Excavation ‘done with reverence’

05 April 2013

DIOCESE OF WINCHESTER

Before: the Rt Revd Peter Hancock (centre) leads prayers by the grave, with the Revd Cliff Bannister (right), and Canon Paul Townsend

Before: the Rt Revd Peter Hancock (centre) leads prayers by the grave, with the Revd Cliff Bannister (right), and Canon Paul Townsend

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 century.

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