Medieval Friars to be Reburied in Newcastle
14 October 2010
The remains of
more than twenty medieval friars and lay associates of the Carmelite Order in
Newcastle and Northallerton are to be reburied following excavations carried
out by Archaeological Services Durham University between 2006 and 2008.
In Newcastle some 13 individuals and
charnel deposits were unearthed at the site of the Carmelite friary that stood near
the castle by Westgate, not far from the River Tyne. The friary, established in
1262, was a major centre of religious and social activity.
The Carmelites were established
in the Holy Land around the year 1200, arrived in England in 1242, and quickly
developed into an international religious order of the Roman Catholic Church.
Suppressed at the Reformation, the Order returned to Britain in the early
twentieth century. The Carmelites now, as in the Middle Ages, are devoted to
prayer and preaching, as well as to service of the local community.
It is likely that most of the
individuals unearthed in Newcastle were friars, who were buried alongside lay benefactors
who supported and shared their way of life.
According to Senior Archaeologist Richard Annis, four of
the individuals were buried under the floor of the Chapter House, the friars’
meeting room, suggesting that they were senior members of the community. One
grave occupant had an iron ring at about hip-level, and another was buried with
a stick by his right leg. Final tests being done on the bones have helped to
explain the unusual burial posture of one of the friars who was laid in a
slightly crouched position on his right side with a floor tile placed behind
his heels. Analysis has shown that the friar had a slightly
deformed left arm, shorter than normal and incapable of straightening
completely which might account for his unusual burial posture.
In 1539 the Carmelite friary in Newcastle
was suppressed at the Reformation, and the site underwent various
redevelopments, being until recently the location of BEMCO (British Electrical
and Manufacturing Company). The former BEMCO site was acquired by Buccleuch
Property, the commercial property arm of the Duke of Buccleuch’s estate. Detailed planning consent for a new 45,000 square foot office scheme, 'Fusion', has been secured. Also contributing to the regeneration of the area behind Newcastle Central Station is a separate project, the redevelopment of Friar House (to become The Saints Hotel), involving the renovation of an 18th-century
Georgian townhouse that recalls in its name the history of the site. The interior
of the Carmelite church almost certainly contains further burials, but was not
excavated as it lies under a road.
Carmelite friars' graves excavated at Newcastle
The remains of eight
medieval Carmelite friars in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, were uncovered as
part of a dig (pictured below) carried out in 2006 ahead of a residential development
by Castle Homes. The dig at Priory Close was likewise carried out by Archaeological Services Durham
University. The excavation revealed that
the town’s Carmelite priory – established in 1356 and suppressed at the
Reformation – differed from other European Carmelite houses in its layout. The
dig also unearthed eight burials from the cloister; other graves and friary
buildings most probably survive beneath buildings in the surrounding area. The
team of researchers was able to establish the diet of the friars from excavated
animal bones and detritus, and also managed to determine that one individual
had been struck on the forehead but lived to tell the tale. Other finds
discovered on the site included two iron shoe buckles and pottery, some of
which was made in North Yorkshire and the Tees Valley, while other fragments
were from Germany.
The excavation of the Carmelite Friary at Northallerton in 2006.
A Carmelite grave at the Northallerton excavation.
The medieval Carmelites from both
Newcastle and Northallerton will be reburied at Jesmond Old Cemetery in
Newcastle upon Tyne. The reburial is being organised by the present-day British
Province of the Carmelite Order which has dozens of communities of friars, nuns and lay people across England,
Wales and Scotland, including a vibrant community of Lay Carmelites in Newcastle.
the reburials, the Prior of the Carmelite Friars in York, Fr. Antony Lester
(pictured below), said: “It came as something of a surprise to receive a phone
call from the archaeologists in Durham asking us what we, as ‘next of kin’,
wanted to do about the reburial of members of our Order who died more than 500
years ago. But as fellow Carmelites we feel a strong spiritual bond with all
our brothers and sisters from the past, and it is right that they should be
re-interred with dignity. Back in the 1960s when there was a lot of
redevelopment taking place in many of Britain’s city-centres, a number of our
medieval friaries were excavated and we re-interred bodies in the cemetery at
our large priory at Aylesford in Kent. But today we think it is important to
lay the bodies of our brothers to rest in the place where they were in ministry
at the service of God’s people, especially since the first Carmelite community in
this country was established in the northeast, at Hulne near Alnwick. We are
very grateful to all those who have been involved in this unusual project,
including the developers, archaeologists, and Newcastle City Council.”
Lester, Prior of the Carmelite friars in York,
Wilson of the Newcastle Lay Carmelite Community.
The remains of
each Carmelite are individually boxed and will be buried in a single grave at
Jesmond Old Cemetery, in a coffin donated by Co-Operative Funeralcare in Durham.
Memorial Mass will be celebrated by the Prior Provincial of the Carmelites at The
Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church (7 North Jesmond Avenue) at 11am on Monday
15th November, which is the day each year when the Carmelite Order worldwide
commemorates its dead. The Mass, which all are welcome to attend, will be
followed by a short service at the grave-side.
Richard Annis; Johan Bergström-Allen, T.O.C.; Richard Copsey, O.Carm.