Twenty-one ancient skulls have been stolen from an ossuary in a church in Kent.
The ossuary, in the crypt at St Leonard’s, Hythe, is believed to hold the remains of people who were originally buried in the St Leonard’s and other churchyards in the area from the 12th to the 15th centuries.
The Priest-in-Charge, the Revd Andrew Sweeney, explained last week that the bones had probably come from reburials that took place when the church was extended in the 11th to 13th centuries, and when neighbouring churchyards were closed and cleared.
One suggestion is that it had been a charnel house, or chapel, as they had in medieval times beneath churches. The ossuary is open to visitors during the summer months.
“Each skull represents the mortal remains of a human being who deserves to rest in peace,” Mr Sweeney said. “There is no conceivable reason for any of these skulls to be in the hands of anyone but the Church.”
He defended the decision to keep the church and its ossuary open to the public, arguing that “its historic interest makes it important to do so. To encounter human mortal remains can be a profound and fascinating experience, enabling us to learn about historic attitudes to death, and to reflect on our own thoughts and feelings about life and death.”
“We have always relied on the assumption of human decency in our visitors, and compassion for those whose remains rest in peace in the sacred space of our church,” he said.
“We are saddened that the greed, selfishness, or stupidity of some people has destroyed that assumption of common human values. We have now had to resort to expensive and complex security measures which we once thought unnecessary.”
Anyone with information concerning the crime is asked to contact Kent police on 01843 222289, quoting 16419.