Archaeologists have uncovered a lost 13th century sacristy at Westminster Abbey along with the bones of hundreds of monks from an earlier burial ground.
The team from Pre-Construct Archaeology had been doing work on the North Green of the Abbey when they came across the Great Sacristy built by Henry III in the 1250s.
An integral part of Henry’s Abbey, the sacristy was the only section of the 13th-century reconstruction which had been lost. Originally used to keep the sacred vestments and items prior to Mass, it was later converted into living quarters before being demolished in the 18th century.
The famous gothic revival architect Sir George Gilbert Scott had begun to uncover and record the footprint of the sacristy in 1869 when he worked as the Abbey’s Surveyor of the Fabric.
Before the sacristy was built, the site was used as a burial ground for monks. The archaeologists have been carrying out the careful work of uncovering the graves of what they estimate to be “hundreds if not thousands” of bodies.
The team’s director Chris Mayo told the Guardian that “this will be the case right the way across the Abbey site. Ultimately the Abbey’s grounds once went much further still… this whole area was awash with burials.”
Amongst the most significant artefacts found during the dig was a stoup which the monks would have used to wash their hands as they entered the original church built by Edward the Confessor in 1065. Remarkably, the team found it had been reused two centuries later as a buttress in the L-shaped foundations of Henry III’s lavishly reconstructed Abbey.
Pre Construct Archaeology went on to recover many fragments of plaster work which showed the medieval sacristy had been painted with black, white and red flowers.
The archaeologists also found significant numbers of domestic objects dating from the 1700s, which included plates, pots, glasses, combs and brushes.
The Abbey revealed the latest findings as the archaeological work comes to a close, with the site to soon be covered in preparation for a new visitors’ entrance which is being planned for Victoria Street.
The Abbey had commissioned the dig, which began in January 2020, in order to fully understand the medieval footprint of the site before the building work begins.
Featured image: Photograph of 11th century chalk-lined grave with skeleton of a monk. Courtesy of Westminster Abbey.