Christian pilgrims have flocked to visit the altar shrine of Edward the Confessor every year since he was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey in 1066.
The site of the saint's original grave has remained a mystery since his body was moved twice in the 12th and 13th centuries, finally being laid to rest at the tiered shrine at the altar of the Abbey. But now the original tomb has been discovered in a forgotten, underground chamber at the Abbey.
The discovery comes as part of an archaeological study at the Abbey using the latest ground-penetrating radar (GPR) technology that has also revealed a series of royal tombs dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries, including a line of what appear to be diminutive graves, possibly for children.
Archaeologists stumbled across the forgotten chambers while using the radar to investigate the construction of the Abbey's Cosmati mosaic pavement, dating back to 1268, in front of the High Altar. Victorian archaeologists tried to penetrate the mysteries of the hidden tombs for decades but lacked the technology, so the crypt was left forgotten until now.
The current team identified other tombs under the shrine, in an area of the Abbey never before surveyed and on which no known records exist.
Warwick Rodwell, the Abbey's consultant archaeologist, called it an "extraordinary discovery" which was of "unparalleled" historical interest.
He added: "We have never been able to locate the original tomb of Edward until now. The Victorians tried to find out more about what tombs were under here, but they simply did not have the technology to do it. The mystery around the location of his crypt has been running for many years. Every day brings us new insights and new facts."
Dr Rodwell said the team had initially set out to conduct pavement research of about 20 inches' depth, but kept probing further until they discovered the crypt. "Little did we expect that, lying beneath, using a lower-frequency radar, we would find chambers, vaults and foundations of such fascinating historical interest and dating back to the very founding of the Abbey, over a millennium ago," he said.
It was known that Edward III, who was born in 1003, was buried beneath the sacrarium floor, but no one had been able to locate his original tomb until now.Reuse content