Picking over bones of the past to unravel a legend

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The Independent Online
Wales will celebrate St David's Day tomorrow with the news that the remains of its patron saint are not where they were thought to be.

For years, legend has had it that the bones of the saint were in a wooden casket discovered in the last century in the stone walls of St David's Cathedral. Inside the box were the bones of three people, including what many believed to be the bones of St David, because they fitted the description of the saint as being a tall man, around 6ft - highly unusual for the 7th century.

But samples of the bones taken for analysis and dating at Oxford University's Radio Carbon Accelerator Unit, which employs techniques similar to those used on the Turin Shroud, have now proved that the remains are those of an 11th or 12th-century man who ate a lot of fish, possibly Saint Caradog, who died in 1124.

The analysis showed that the remains could not have been those of David, who died in 601, who was canonised by the Pope in 1120 and whose relics first went missing in 1538.

The controversial findings of the analysis were revealed to the Welsh preople last night in HTV's documentary, In Search of David, which followed the progress of the scientific evaluation at Oxford and involved forensic pathologist Professor Bernard Knight.

The Dean of St David's, the Very Rev Wyn Evans, who is also an archaeologist, said the results and the new-found link with Caradog were surprising and intriguing. "It means the early history of St David's Cathedral will have to be re-written," he added.

Had the bones proven to be the real thing, many in the principality believed it would have boosted tourism.

The Rt Rev Huw Jones, the current Bishop of St David's and the 126th incumbent since David himself, said: "In the 16th century there was a determined effort to break up the cult of St David and the official shrine and relics disappeared. Until then, pilgrimages here had a high profile. Three pilgrimages to St David's were the equivalent of one to Jerusalem and two were the equivalent of a journey to Rome."

The search may now start again for the final resting place of the remains of St David. And the relics of the fish-eating St Caradog are likely to be returned to the wooden casket and put back into the cathedral where they have lain for the last 900 years.

Roger Dobson