The Afterlife of the Charnel Chapel at Rothwell (Northamptonshire, UK)


The practice of charnelling human remains has recently been revealed to have been widespread in medieval England, with chapels specially built for this purpose. However, this practice ceased at the time of the early sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation, and the charnel chapels were emptied and in some cases demolished. A rare exception is at Rothwell (Northamptonshire, UK), which survived the Reformation intact, apparently because it was closed up at this time with the charnel in situ. The chapel was rediscovered in the early eighteenth century, by a - presumably shocked - grave digger, who fell into it! By this time, charnel chapels no longer had any formal liturgical function, but the site became a place of local fascination and folklore, recounted by antiquarians and reflected in graffiti scratched on to the walls of the chapel. New radiocarbon dating evidence, reveals that some human remains were added to the chapel in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, possibly medical specimens. This paper explores the post-medieval history of the Rothwell charnel chapel, and examines the interactions of the local community with the chapel and the human remains it contained, to throw new light on how a fundamentally medieval practice was appropriated in later periods.

Cite this Record

The Afterlife of the Charnel Chapel at Rothwell (Northamptonshire, UK). Dawn Hadley, Elizabeth Craig-Atkins, Jenny Crangle. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 429258)


Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

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

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 15766