Burials of Early Medieval monks at Britain’s oldest monastery

A discovery of what is believed to be the oldest burials of monks in Britain was made at discovered at Beckery Chapel, near Glastonbury. Carbon dating of the remains revealed that they were from the 5th or early 6th century AD.

An uncovered burial (by SW Heritage Trust)
An uncovered burial (by SW Heritage Trust)

The Beckery Chapel is located  on a small island just off Glastonbury, being  surrounded by the wetlands and cut off from normal life, what probably stood behind the decision of basing it here. The site was originally discovered in the 1960s some 50 and back then 60 skeletons were found. Now,  the remains of seven individuals were unearthed in May, all of which were radiocarbon dated. According to the experts most of them were adult male, apart from two juveniles thought to be novice monks. A female skeleton is believed to have been a visiting nun or patron. The balance of male and female remains and the new scientific evidence mean there is little doubt the burial ground had been a monastic cemetery.

Excavations at the site (by SW Heritage Trust)
Excavations at the site (by SW Heritage Trust)

The carbon dating reveals that the Beckery Chapel pre-dates Iona Abbey in Scotland, founded in the late 6th century, and nearby Glastonbury Abbey, which dates from the 7th century. The earliest monks died in the 5th or early 6th centuries AD with burials taking place at Beckery until the early 9th Century AD. Excavations also revealed a few rudimentary buildings made of wattle and daub, but no great structures made of stone. The archaeologists believe the site ended when the Vikings invaded later in the 9th century AD and attacked Somerset. The site is also is connected to legendary visits by King Arthur, who is said to have seen a vision of the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus there.

(after Bridgewater Mercury, BBC News, SW Heritage Trust)

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