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Surprising Find Under London Museum: Centuries-Old Remains of Five Arch Bishops

Construction workers excavating under a London museum found an archeological gem, and historians are excited. The museum, which is next to a church, had a secret flight of stairs that led to an ancient tomb containing 20 coffins.

At least five of the people buried in the tomb were Arch Bishops of Canterbury whose tombs were listed as ‘missing’ for centuries. The museum director was in shock at the find.

The discovery was made under the Garden Museum, which has been closed for the last two years for extensive refurbishment. Crews stumbled upon the tomb completely by accident. They were stripping out stones to even the paving out and cut out a six-inch diameter hole in the floor.

They mounted a phone on a stick and put it down in the hole. The video recorded showed a passageway, so they began digging. It took some work, but the construction crew managed to move the 3,300 lb. concrete stones, only to discover a hidden stairway beneath it.

Rooff LTD site manager Karl Pattern was stunned by the discovery. His company was not given any warning about a possible historical site preserved below, so they investigated. The stairway led to the tomb underneath the museum. Upon further probing with the camera, they realized they had stumbled onto something significant.

"We got a camera at the end of a stick and discovered numerous coffins, and one of them had a gold crown on top of it," said Pattern.

There were 20 coffins in all. Patten called Museum Director Christopher Woodward, who was equally stunned. He said no one had any idea that the tomb was down there. He thought something had gone wrong, but fortunately, everything had gone right.

"Every archaeologist in London has looked at this building. But nobody told us to expect to find anything," Woodward said in the video. "I came in thinking, 'This sounds like bad news.' And wow, it's the crown of an archbishop gleaming in the dark."

The church next to the museum was built in the 11th century by Edward the Confessor's sister. It's across from Westminster Abbey. In the 1960s, the church building shut down and the congregation began meeting in a new church. The building was slated to be demolished, but volunteers rescued it and turned it into a shrine to John Tradescand, a garden keeper from the 17th century.

Some bodies have been identified as those belonging to archbishops of Canterbury. The most significant find were the remains of Richard Bancroft, the archbishop who led the committee for the King James Bible translation in 1611, was buried down there.

In addition, so far, John Bettesworth, a judge on the ecclesiastical court in the 18th century, 18th century Archbishop John Moore and his wife, Catherine, were identified.

Heritage Lottery Fund is funding the project to further excavate the site. Chairman Wesley Kerr says this discovery is 'one of the most incredible things' he's ever seen.

“I knew there had been 20,000 bodies buried in the churchyard. But I thought the burial places had been cleared from the nave and aisles, and the vaults under the church had been filled with earth,” Woodward said.

"This is really astonishing," Patten said. "To know that possibly the person that commissioned the King James Bible is buried is the most incredible discovery and greatly adds to the texture of this project."

Source: NBC News
Photos: Wikivoyage, Garden Museum,

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