Medieval cemetery unearthed in West Yorkshire

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Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a medieval burial ground at St Giles’ Church in Pontefract. Ten medieval graves were unexpectedly discovered during ongoing building works at the site. 

Archaeologists from West Yorkshire Archaeological Services (WYAS) also uncovered the foundations of what is believed to have been the earliest church to occupy the Market Place site. 

Ian Roberts, archaeologist overseeing the work for WYAS and the Wakefield Diocese, said: “Churches invariably preserve some of the earliest medieval archaeology in our historic towns and it is only occasionally that the opportunity arises to investigate, evaluate and record the evidence that survives. 

“The findings at St Giles’ are extremely significant, enabling us to clarify just what was seen in the Victorian period, so contributing to our better understanding of early medieval Pontefract. 

“Luckily the work required at St Giles’ will not involve the destruction of any of the medieval wall remains or the graves, which will be protected and preserved in situ.” 

Mr Roberts said the church was originally constructed in the 12th century and expanded during the later medieval period. 

He said that in 1868, the Pontefract Advertiser reported old walls representing a much smaller Norman church had been found but it was only now, 144 years later, that this could be confirmed. 

He added that St Giles’ was created as a chapel of ease to All Saints’ Church and as such was never provided with a burial ground. 

Until now, despite a coffin found below the chancel floor in 1868, it was not thought that burial inside the church had been so commonplace. 

Canon Robert Cooper, vicar of Pontefract, said: “St Giles’ Church has been at the heart of the community for a thousand years and so it is no surprise to find the bones for some of our ancestors. 

“The bodies have been recorded and now remain in situ and we have said a requiem mass for them. 

“I am grateful to WYAS for their sensitivity and care throughout this process, and we pray that our Pomfretian forebears are once again resting in peace.” 

Source: Pontefract abd Castleford Express [February 15, 2012]

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