Thousands of bodies to be moved from medieval church site on HS2 line

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Archaeologists will move thousands of bodies from the site of a medieval church that lies along the route of the HS2 railway.

The remains of St Mary’s Church in Stoke Mandeville, Buckinghamshire, built in the 11th century, are being carefully excavated to allow work on the high speed line to continue.

HS2 says all artefacts and human remains that are removed will be treated with “dignity, care and respect,” and that the work will “shine a light” on almost 900 years of history at the site.

Medieval church excavated for HS2 railway
Archaeologists at work on the site of St Mary’s Church which lies in the path of the HS2 line (HS2 Ltd/ PA)

About 3,000 burials are expected to be unearthed by archaeologists from LP Archaeology, who are being assisted by engineers from HS2’s enabling works contractor, Fusion-JV.

Before work on the burial ground began, a virtual blessing was given by the Bishop of Buckingham.

The church was built in 1080, shortly after the Norman conquest, and was renovated in the 13th, 14th and 17th centuries.

Several extensions were added including the brick bell tower.

The burial ground at St Mary’s was in use for 900 years, with the last recorded interment in 1908.

The building was abandoned and eventually demolished, leaving a pile of rubble that became overgrown with vegetation and less visible to the public.

The final phase of excavations at the site began in February 2021.

Helen Wass, Head of Heritage for HS2 Ltd, said: “HS2’s unparalleled archaeological programme is well underway and the start of works at St Mary’s offers an exceptional opportunity for archaeologists to uncover and shine a light on what life was like for the community of Stoke Mandeville over such a timespan.

“All artefacts and human remains uncovered will be treated with dignity, care and respect and our discoveries will be shared with the community through open days and expert lectures.

“HS2’s archaeology programme seeks to engage with all communities, both local and nationally, to share the information and knowledge gained as well as leaving a lasting archival and skills legacy.”

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