A BUILDING project in a village church, which was ten years in
the making, has been thrown into doubt after 120 bodies were
discovered buried in the site.
St Peter and St Paul, in Alconbury, north of Huntingdon, had
spent a decade raising £230,000 to build an extension on the north
side of the 13th-century church. It would be used as a community
meeting space, with a kitchen and disabled lavatory.
Just a few weeks after the diggers moved in in March, however,
human remains began to be discovered in the ground where the new
building was to be constructed. The Rector, the Revd Mary Jepp,
said on Monday that the church had been forced to halt work and
bring in archaeologists to examine the skeletons.
"We have got 120 skeletons that need to be re-interred," she
said. "It closed the building site, and it means that funding for
the exhuming and re-interring of those bodies is falling on the
Mrs Jepp estimated that the cost of exhumation and re-interment
of the bodies would be between £20,000 and £30,000, which would
mean that they could no longer afford to complete the project.
"We feel as if we are scuppered, regardless of which direction
we turn. There are several elderly women who have worked their
socks off for the past ten years. In a meeting last week, they were
almost in tears. We all feel sick about it."
Mrs Jepp said that her small church, which has a congregation of
about 50 on a good Sunday, had been tireless in fund-raising,
holding Christmas-tree festivals, selling marmalade, and
"everything else you can imagine".
Despite the setback, she said that she was determined to
continue. Parishioners had already put flyers asking for donations
through every door in the village, and a prayer campaign had
They had promised the village a community space that they could
share, Mrs Jepp said; so the church could not give up now. "We have
seen real progress in terms of mission - we have youth work, we
work in schools, we have a toddler group. Things are starting to
kick on; so this is a real body-blow."
Although she accepted that ancient remains needed to be exhumed
and re-interred with respect, she thought that there should be some
way that small churches were not financially penalised for
unexpected burial grounds. The frustration with this problem was
worsened, she said, because the church's original plans, to build
the community space inside the church, were rejected by the
A spokeswoman from the diocese of Ely said that, although the
diocese sympathised with the church, the rules on exhuming human
remains were set by the Government, not the Church of England.
The diocesan secretary, Paul Evans, said, however, that the
diocese would offer St Peter and St Paul a loan of £30,000, because
of the "exceptional nature" of its find. "Ely diocese values all
its church buildings as centres of worship. . . And, working
closely with its parishes, within the law of the land, seeks to
enable them to use their buildings to best serve their
communities," he said.