Builders Find Remains of Five Archbishops of Canterbury

Turns out the vault in which they were buried wasn’t destroyed by flood after all

The Church of England doesn’t have a pope, but it does have an Archbishop of Canterbury. Historically, the Archbishop has wielded lots of power, so you’d think historians would know where every one was buried.  But that’s not exactly true—as the BBC reports a recent discovery uncovered five buried archbishops. 

The remains of five Archbishops of Canterbury were found in a hidden crypt beneath St. Mary-at-Lambeth, a medieval church in London. The structure is located next to Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s official residence for nearly eight centuries. While the church hasn’t been used for religious worship since the 1970s, but it once was noteworthy not just because of its famous location, but because of the rich history within.

Part of that history was uncovered by builders busy doing a restoration project on the church. They were lifting flagstones from the ground when they uncovered a hidden tomb. A glimpse of an archbishop’s red and gold miter—the traditional headcovering of a bishop—greeted the builders, the BBC reports. When they went inside, they found a stack of coffins, many with nameplates that point to famous residents.

Among the dead uncovered are five Archbishops of Canterbury, including Richard Bancroft, who played a role in the creation of the renowned King James Bible. Bancroft violently objected to the translation of the bible—the third and most famous English translation in existence. But later on, he ended up overseeing the entire contentious project.

The crypt was previously thought to have been flooded by the River Thames and destroyed or cleared out by Victorian-era remodelers to make room for renovations. However, according to the Garden Museum, which is based in the church, it’s not such a surprise that archbishops were buried there. “This was the discovery of a recorded vault below the chancel for high status burials,” it wrote in a statement.  

Lost or no, it’s not every day you find a vault filled with historical figures—or spot a glimmering symbol of power and the past while you’re working on a construction job.

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