Showing posts with label Winchester Cathedral mortuary chests. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Winchester Cathedral mortuary chests. Show all posts

Monday, September 24, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 12: Ossuary

Rendered in more rudimentary calligraphy is today's word...

An ossuary (noun) is a depository box for the bones of the dead.  Creepy, no?

Why on Earth didn't I save this for Halloween, you ask?  Well, on a basic level, I say, creepiness is not bound to one particular day.  Anyway... in perusing the lexicon today, I came across this word and was struck with a memory.  I first learned that "bone boxes" or mortuary chests existed when Michelle and I studied abroad at Oxford and took a trip to Winchester Cathedral.  As I remember it, there are six such chests situated on the presbytery levels of the cathedral, each containing the remains of Anglo-Saxon (and one Danish) king of England.  I believe these bones were buried deep in the crypt of the "old minster" and were moved to a place of honor when the new cathedral was built in the 1100s.  Occupants of these chests include Cynegils, Aethelwulf, Cynewulf, Ecgbert, Cnut, Emma (wife of Aethelred the Unready and Cnut) and an assortment of bones that could be Edred (who could also be someone named Edmund). 

What I find to be so fascinating about the ossuaries is how old they are (we're talking pre-1066 here), and how certain facts are lost with time, how a few of these kings made no impression on history at all (or were erased from history), or were mixed up.  These mysteries only prompt discussion.  Like the mystery of Richard III's bones in Leicester and those of the Princes in the Tower thought to be unearthed from under the staircase of the Tower of London, there is always the knowledge that we will never know - and probably never should - what or who rests inside.  Here is a website with more interesting tidbits on these memorials.

This is the only clear picture I have from Winchester of one of the mortuary chests.  We were allowed to take photos, but the flash of my camera could only go so far.  Yet, even from here, you can see how ornate these chests are, beautiful in their ancientness. 


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