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The Chronological and Liturgical Context of Charnel Practice in Medieval England: Manipulations of the Skeletonized Body at Rothwell Charnel Chapel, Northamptonshire

Author(s): Elizabeth Craig-Atkins ; Jennifer Crangle ; Dawn Hadley

Year: 2017

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Summary

The rare survival of a charnel chapel and the commingled remains of more than 2,500 individuals it houses at Holy Trinity Church, Rothwell, England provides a unique opportunity to investigate the postmortem manipulation of human remains in the medieval period. The apparent paucity of charnel chapel sites in England has led to the dismissal of charnelling as a marginal practice with little liturgical significance, a pragmatic solution to the need for storage of disturbed bones. Yet the evidence from Rothwell, and a further c. 60 lost or misunderstood charnel chapel sites our project has uncovered, suggest that human remains stored in subterranean chapels served an important role as a focus for intercessory prayer. Here, both the local faithful and pilgrims could pray for the souls of the dead while their physical remains provided a tangible focus for their devotion. This paper explores the chronology and significance of charnelling in medieval England, presenting the first radiocarbon dating evidence for human remains obtained from a charnel chapel. It argues for the widespread and instrumental role of manipulated human remains in early Christian practices in England and reflects on how this role has changed over the last 700 years.


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The Chronological and Liturgical Context of Charnel Practice in Medieval England: Manipulations of the Skeletonized Body at Rothwell Charnel Chapel, Northamptonshire. Elizabeth Craig-Atkins, Jennifer Crangle, Dawn Hadley. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 429254)


Keywords

Geographic Keywords
Europe


Spatial Coverage

min long: -11.074; min lat: 37.44 ; max long: 50.098; max lat: 70.845 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 14852

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America