Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Burial Place of St. Chad Discovered

h/t: Huw Raphael

Archaeologists discover Saint Chad's Burial Place and Shrine
- Major discovery re-writes Lichfield's history
- Shrine to be reunited with illuminated Gospels after 1,000 years

In a discovery hailed as being of “European significance” and the “foundation of English art”, archaeologists working at Lichfield Cathedral have uncovered the church built to house the grave of St Chad; together with the “Lichfield Angel” - part of the shrine created around AD700 by Bishop Hedda to mark the resting place of Lichfield’s first Bishop.

And now the remains of the shrine are to be reunited for the first time in more than 1,000 years with the Lichfield Gospels – an illuminated manuscript commissioned in the eighth century to adorn the shrine. And, thanks to collaboration between the Cathedral, the British Library and the Parish of Llandeilo, members of the public will be able to ‘turn the pages’ of the precious Lichfield Gospels as they have been digitised – digital versions of the St Chad Gospels will be on display in the Cathedral and also available to tour across the diocese.

The “Lichfield Angel”

When Chad became the fifth Bishop of the Mercians in AD 669 he moved the bishopric from Repton to Lichfield. The noted church historian, the Venerable Bede, reported that Chad “came to dwell by St Mary’s Church”. Chad died on 2nd March AD672 and Bede reported that he was buried: “close by” the Church of St Mary, but that his body was later transferred to the new church of St Peter.

The exact locations of these churches have never been known; and there has been much speculation that St Chad’s Church in Lichfield is located on the site of one of the original churches. But now, archaeologists can reveal that the remains of both St Peter’s Church and St Mary’s Church lie under the floor of the present cathedral – and that both have been found during recent archaeological investigations.

The latest finds – St Peter’s Church, the shrine, and a number of high-status later burials around the shrine – were discovered as archaeologists conducted a dig in the nave of the Cathedral to prepare the way for a new motorised retractable nave platform. The remains of St Mary’s Church was discovered in the 1990s during a major programme to replace broken limestone flooring flags. It wasn’t until the remains of St Peter’s Church was found that it was possible to identify the remains found in the 1990s as St Mary’s Church – the church where Chad worshipped and preached.

The “Lichfield Angel” is three adjoining fragments of an Anglo-Saxon sculptured panel made of cream shelly limestone. It is believed that this formed part of a shrine in which the bones of St Chad were housed.

Leading ecclesiastical archaeologist, Dr Warwick Rodwell, is Consultant Archaeologist at Lichfield Cathedral, and led the dig. He said: “The remarkable state of preservation of the panel fragments is due to several factors. First, the sculpture had a short life span before being broken and buried. Second, the fragments were deposited inside the church and have therefore not been subject to outside weathering. Third, at least two of the three pieces were placed face-down in a pit, thereby trapping air pockets against some areas of the sculptured surface. Hence, parts of the painted decoration have never had soil in contact with them.”

Professor Rosemary Cramp, a trustee of the British Museum and past president of the Council for British Archaeology is a senior expert in Anglo-Saxon archaeology, described the “Lichfield Angel” as being of “European importance”. She added: “This carving is crucially important for the light it throws on the chronology of Anglo Saxon sculpture. Only a handful of sites have produced sculptures which are archaeologically stratified as belonging to the pre-conquest period. This piece is unusual in that an almost complete panel of a casket has been carefully reburied, some time before the Norman Conquest. This can be paralleled only in the reburied sarcophagus at Alkmund’s, Derby.

“This piece provides something of a missing link between England and the continent in the revival of late antique styles, a revival which on the continent is demonstrated in manuscripts and ivories, not large scale carvings. The conservation of the Lichfield Angel and its formal, stylistic and iconographic analysis is obviously of crucial importance.”

Emily Howe, a conservator of wall paintings and sculptural polychromy, has been given the task of co-ordinating the recording, examination and analysis of the Angel prior to its conservation, and is receiving generous technical support from Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and a substantial grant from the Pilgrim Trust. She said: “Initial documentation of the panel components, including high resolution digital imaging and close range 3-D laser scanning, has now been completed. Not only will these records serve as an important resource for monitoring the condition of the panel over time, but they will enable a better understanding of the way the panel was made and assist in the provision of interpretative material showing how the fragments might originally have fitted into the St Chad shrine chest.

“Following the Angel’s temporary display in the Cathedral during the month of March, a detailed condition assessment will be undertaken and further research instigated into the object’s physical history. Findings from these non-invasive investigations will inform the need for scientific analysis of the Angel’s stone support and extensive remaining paint layer, and examination of the ways in which the materials were used. Such analyses will not only provide further information on the panel’s current condition, but will also serve to illuminate its considerable technological significance among Britain’s early medieval sculpture.”

Recommendations for the long-term conservation of the Lichfield Angel and suitable conditions for the panel’s display in the Cathedral will be considered by a panel of experts based on the findings of these informative preliminary investigations.