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Charnel practices in medieval England: new perspectives

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  • Dawn Hadley
  • E Craig-Atkins
  • Paul Barnwell
  • Jenny Crangle
  • Allan Adams (Illustrator)
  • Ian Atkins (Illustrator)
  • Jessica-Rose McGinn
  • Alice James


Publication details

DateAccepted/In press - 18 Feb 2019
DateE-pub ahead of print - 15 May 2019
DatePublished (current) - 2019
Issue number2
Number of pages22
Pages (from-to)145-166
Early online date15/05/19
Original languageEnglish


Studies of English medieval funerary practice have paid limited attention to the curation of human remains in charnel houses. Yet analysis of architectural, archaeological and documentary evidence, including antiquarian accounts, suggests that charnelling was more widespread in medieval England than has hitherto been appreciated, with many charnel chapels dismantled at the sixteenth-century Reformation. The survival of a charnel house and its human remains at Rothwell, Northamptonshire permits a unique opportunity to analyse charnel practice at a medieval parish church. Employing architectural, geophysical, and osteological analysis, we present a new contextualisation of medieval charnelling. We argue that the charnel house at Rothwell, a subterranean room constructed during the thirteenth century, may have been a particularly sophisticated example of an experiment born out of beliefs surrounding Purgatory.

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