The discovery in 1981 of the almost perfectly preserved body of a medieval knight, now known as ” St Bees Man”, was one of the most extraordinary archaeological burial finds in Britain in the late 20th century.
The discovery was made in a ruined chancel aisle of St Bees Priory by archaeologists from Leicester University during a dig organised by St Bees residents and historians John & Mary Todd.
The dig was searching for evidence of a pre-Norman church. What they found were many monastic and secular burials, and a large stone vault. The vault was carefully excavated and revealed a skeleton of a woman and large lead coffin (see left).
The archeologists expected a skeleton in the coffin, but it revealed a body wrapped in a shroud. It seemed to have been soaked in a resinous material and it was tied neatly with cord like a parcel. No medieval body had been found like this in modern times! When the shroud was taken off, those present came face to face with a man who had to have been buried before 1500. A post-mortem showed internal organs in extraordinarily good condition (heart, liver and kidneys) with the pathologist able to have a good idea about what the man had eaten at his last meal. Liquid blood was also visible. At the time there was no idea about the identity of the two bodies. It has taken many years of research to give tentative names to them and to suggest where and how the man died. This fascinating detective story is told in a photobook in the Priory. Come and read it! Chris Robson is very happy to answer questions on this strange story and will give talks about St Bees Man and St Bees Lady. firstname.lastname@example.org
More detailed information on the St Bees Man story can be found on the Saint Bees village website.