|SUBTERRANEAN SANCTUARIES - Crypts and Charnel Houses
A salon in the cemetery with Jelena Bekvalac and Rachel Ives
Sunday 23rd October from 1:00 pm
Eighty percent of people who die in the UK today are cremated, a practice which is causing us to lose touch with the customs and art forms of burial. London's crypts and charnel houses - the traditional repositories of human remains - offer fascinating and sometimes macabre and piquant insights into the social, cultural and religious history of the capital.
The ancient Church of St Bride’s on Fleet Street has been associated with the media since Wynkyn de Worde set up his printing press nearby in 1500. Samuel Pepys was christened here and it was here that Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall recently plighted their troth. The existing church was built after the Great Fire of 1666 by Sir Christopher Wren and is famous for its spire which has inspired countless wedding cake designs. The crypt had been sealed since the 1850s, however bomb damage in Word War Two led to it being excavated and the uncovering of many fascinating details of its occupants. JELENA BEKLAVAC, the curator of human osteology at the Museum of London, will outline the history of the crypt revealing the forensic key the named skeletons have left us in the quest to unlock the social history of London.
RACHEL IVES will uncover the fascinating history of the crypt at Nicholas Hawksmoor's Christ Church Spitalfields which was built in 1729.Though its crypt was not originally intended for use as a charnel house, the clergy soon found they could supplement the church’s income by renting the space out to deceased Spitalfields residents, who hoped that their bodies would there gain divine favour as well as being safe from grave robbers. By 1859 the space was full and the bodies were bricked up. The crypt was excavated between 1984-6 and became the first post-medieval burial vault to have been comprehensively investigated by modern archaeological methods.
Over 900 bodies were transferred to the Natural History Museum, where they remain one of the most significant collections of human remains in forensic and evolutionary studies, giving us insights into the social and working, as well as medical, conditions that prevailed in Georgian England.