York professor publishes new analysis of medieval funerary practices

Posted on 16 May 2019

Professor Dawn Hadley carried out a multidisciplinary investigation of charnel houses

A collection of human remains

Prof. Dawn Hadley has published the first comprehensive analysis of medieval charnelling in England, using historical, architectural, geophysical and osteological evidence to cast important new light on a poorly understood, but important aspect of medieval funerary practices. Working with colleagues from the Universities of Sheffield and Oxford, the paper focusses on the charnel house at Rothwell (Northamptonshire), a rare survival with its human remains still in place. The paper argues that this subterranean room was constructed during alterations to the church in the thirteenth century, and may have been a particularly sophisticated example of an experiment born out of beliefs surrounding Purgatory. Charnel houses were largely dismantled and emptied of their human remains following the Reformation and the scale and significance of medieval charnelling has hitherto not been appreciated. The study of Rothwell offers a new model with which to evaluate the surviving evidence for charnel practices in a more critical manner, and to enable the integration of charnel houses in England into wider narratives of medieval charnelling across Europe.
Read the paper online in Mortality, Volume 24, 2019