Workers Found Hidden Stairs, Then a Crown and Coffins

Remains of 5 archbishops of Canterbury found by mistake in former medieval church
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 17, 2017 7:23 AM CDT
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby leaves following his enthronement service at Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, England, on March 21, 2013.   (AP Photo/Gareth Fuller, Pool)

(Newser) – The Telegraph calls it the "perfect Easter story," except with ex-archbishops of Canterbury instead of Jesus, and a rather full tomb replacing Jesus' empty one. Workers renovating the Garden Museum (once a medieval-era church) next door to the Archbishop of Canterbury's Lambeth Palace stumbled across a vault with 30 lead coffins. A closer look at the accompanying metal plates revealed that five deceased Archbishops of Canterbury, going all the way back to the early 17th century, were among those interred. "This is really astonishing," a former chair of the UK's Heritage Lottery Fund tells the BBC, noting that one of the newly discovered church leaders was Richard Bancroft, who commissioned the English translation of the King James Bible. Per NBC News, builders were toiling away at the site one day in 2015 when they made their discovery.

A hole was mistakenly cut through the floor near the altar, and when the workers lowered a smartphone on a stick into the hole, they spied a staircase leading to the tomb where the coffins rested. What really caught their eye, though: the red and gold archbishop's crown perched on top of one casket. Although historians knew archbishops had been buried in the museum when it was still a church, they thought all remains had been removed during an 1851 rebuild—and most had, save for the ones directly beneath the church's altar. Viewers will soon be able to peer through a glazed panel to see the steps to the vault, where the coffins will remain undisturbed. One reason for leaving them be: No one wants to be sprayed with the thick black "coffin liquor" that can result when bodies in lead coffins decompose, the Telegraph notes. (The current archbishop of Canterbury recently learned he had a secret dad.)

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