Archaeologists Digging At Lincoln Castle Uncover Early Christian Community

Lincolnshire County Council

Archaeologists excavating at Lincoln Castle have discovered the remains of an early Christian community, according to a Lincolnshire County Council press release.

The team, which was digging inside the castle to clear the way for an elevator shaft, found the remains of a church that dates back at least 1,000 years. Inside a sealed niche in the wall they found human bones. They had been wrapped in finely woven cloth and while the cloth has long since disappeared, it left its impression on the surrounding mortar. Excavators theorize that these may be the remains of a holy person, as it was common to put relics in church walls and altars in order to make them holy.

An even older find included several skeletons and a stone sarcophagus. The archaeological team is planning to put an endoscopic camera into the coffin to see what’s inside without disturbing it.

%Gallery-188672%Both the cemetery and church date to the Anglo-Saxon period, when England was a patchwork of different kingdoms before the Norman conquest. Lincoln had been a walled Roman town. The Romans left Britain in the early fifth century and were soon replaced by Anglo-Saxons coming from Denmark and northern Germany. They took up residence in Lincoln and many other Roman towns.

The present castle was built by the Normans in 1068 on the foundations of a Roman fort. William the Conqueror, after defeating the English King Harold Godwinson at Hastings in 1066, built this castle to control the important town of Lincoln and its surrounding area. While the castle has been modified over the centuries, it’s still one of the best-preserved Norman castles anywhere.

The typical Norman castle has a tower on an artificial mound at the center and with a wall encircling it. Lincoln Castle has two mounds, each with its own fortification and a long wall encircling them both. This tough fortification was besieged twice. The second time, in 1216, was during the Baron’s War, which led King John into making concessions to the nobility in the form of the famous Magna Carta. One of the original copies is on display here.

Back in 2010, an earlier excavation uncovered a secret tunnel at Lincoln castle. Excavations continue at in the castle grounds.

If you visit the castle, also check nearby Lincoln Cathedral, a beautiful Gothic building from the 11th century.

Archaeologists Discover York Minster’s Earliest Church

York, York Minster
Archaeologists digging in the medieval foundations of York Minster in York, England, have found evidence for an early building that may have been the first church on the site.

The team examined a trench from the original medieval construction site of the present building and found the remains of at least thirty people. They also found two large postholes. These are filled holes in the earth often seen only as a darker stain in the surrounding soil that once held wooden support beams. They are large enough that they were obviously supporting some major structure, and the archaeologists believe this might be evidence of the first church on the site, built in 627 to baptize King Edwin of Northumbria.

Edwin had started life as a pagan but, like many Anglo-Saxon rulers at that time, converted to Christianity. He was venerated as a saint in the early Middle Ages.

York Minster dominates the skyline of the historic city of York and is one of its most impressive attractions. It is a masterpiece of architecture from a time when architects tried to outdo each other in building impressive cathedrals. Most of the current building dates to the 13th century with some older and newer elements. The soaring arches make visitors stare up in awe and the gargoyles and stained glass windows provide lots of detail that reward a second, or tenth, look.

Yorkshire is filled with attractions from literary landmarks and impressive castles to haunted hotel rooms and challenging hikes. The city of York itself draws a steady stream of visitors attracted by its long history, fine dining and excellent shopping.

[Photo courtesy Matze Trier]

The best views of Oxford, England

Oxford
Oxford is the most beautiful city in England. Its famous “dreaming spires” have inspired generations of writers, poets, and scholars. The problem is, there are only two easily accessible spots to get appreciate Oxford’s skyline at its best.

This photo shows the Radcliffe Camera, part of Oxford University’s Bodleian Library and where I work when I’m not feeding hyenas in Harar, Ethiopia. I took this from the top of the spire of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. The tower and spire were built between 1280 and 1325 and are the oldest parts of the church. It’s covered in ornate Gothic carvings and leering gargoyles so don’t forget to take a photo of the exterior before entering the church gift shop and buying your ticket to go up!

The stairs are steep and the staircase is narrow. If you are not reasonably fit do not try to go up. Once you huff and puff your way to the top, you’ll be treated to a 360 degree view of Oxford–its churches, its famous colleges, and the green countryside beyond. You’ll also see the gargoyles up close and personal. The nice folks at the gift shop will give you a free map showing you where everything is. After five years living part time in Oxford I still can’t name all the colleges!

%Gallery-122796%Once you come back down be sure to visit the rest of the church, most of which dates to the 16th century and features some beautiful stained glass. There’s also a cafe serving tasty and reasonably priced food and coffee. There’s something soothing about sipping a mocha under medieval arches. If the weather is good, you can sit in the garden and enjoy views of the Radcliffe Camera and All Souls College.

An even more interesting and much easier climb is up the Old Saxon Tower of St. Michael at the North Gate. While it’s not as high as the spire of St. Mary’s, it’s the oldest building in Oxford. It dates to the late Saxon times and was built around 1040. This used to guard the city gate of Oxford, but all that’s left is the tower. Climbing up here you’ll see a little museum filled with medieval and renaissance bric-a-brac, including a raunchy church sculpture I’ll blog about later. On one landing is an old clockwork mechanism. If you put 20 pence in it, the gears grind to life and chimes start to play. The last time I climbed this tower with a kid I spent a whole pound on it!

Peering over the parapet you can watch shoppers stroll along Cornmarket St., Oxford’s busiest pedestrian road, and you can see birds wheel and soar amidst the spires of nearby colleges. The 13th century church downstairs is worth a look for its rare medieval stained glass and a font that William Shakespeare stood next to as his godchild was baptized. It was the kid of a local innkeeper, and I hope The Bard got a few free pints for his trouble!

If you know anyone who works at or graduated from Oxford, try to get into their college and climb up one of the towers. While most colleges are open to visitors for at least part of the year, the “dreaming spires” generally aren’t, so you need an insider to gain access.

Bamburgh Castle excavation reveals Anglo-Saxon building

castle, castles
An excavation in the courtyard of Bamburgh Castle has uncovered an Anglo-Saxon hall, the BBC reports.

It was already known that there was a castle here from the 6th century AD, when England was a patchwork of small Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. The kingdom of Northumbria was the largest and one of the most powerful. Little was known about the Anglo-Saxon period at Bamburgh, however, because of the massive later castle built atop it.

Now archaeologists have discovered a hall, perhaps a grand building used by the local ruler. The excavation will be featured on the next episode of Time Team, aired in the UK on Channel 4 this Sunday, April 24, at 5:30 PM. The Bamburgh Research Project has an interesting blog to keep you up to date about the excavation. They also offer a Dig for a Day program where you can learn what it’s like to be an archaeologist and maybe make a major discovery of your own.

A couple of years ago we chose Bamburgh Castle as one of the ten toughest castles in the world because of its amazing military history. Check out the link for more information.

[Photo courtesy George Ford]

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York: capital of England’s north

So far my journey through Yorkshire has been one of small towns and moorlands, yet the most popular destination in Yorkshire is the city that gives the shire its name–York. No trip to the north of England would be complete without checking out this historic city.

A brief look at York’s long history
Like many English cities, York’s origins are lost in prehistory. It’s first recorded in the late first century AD as the Roman city of Eboracum. It became an important trading center and it was here that the legions proclaimed Constantine emperor before he went on to convert the empire to Christianity. Some of the original city walls can still be seen.

After the Roman legions left around 410 AD, York remained a political and religious center under the Angles until the Vikings took it over in 866. Contrary to popular opinion, the Vikings weren’t all seafaring raiders. In England they came to settle, once they got their fill of looting and burning that is. Known as Jórvik, it became one of the biggest cities in the Viking world. In the Middle Ages its economic and religious influence continued to grow and it remains one of the biggest cities in the north of England today. The Yorkshire Museum gives a good rundown of the city’s history.

Five things to do in York
1. Visit the Minster. York’s cathedral is a masterpiece of medieval architecture. The minster is one of the most grandiose cathedrals built in the Middle Ages. Much of it dates to the 13th century but there are some older and newer bits as well. Soaring Gothic architecture, weird gargoyles, and beautiful stained glass windows make this a place you can stare at for hours.

2. Wander the streets. York’s medieval center still retains some of its historic charm. Many of the buildings are hundreds of years old, and the winding little streets give you a feel for past times, minus the Black Death and open sewers. Keep a sharp eye out for carved wooden figures that used to act as neighborhood signs in the days when most people were illiterate.

3. Vikings! The Jorvik Viking Centre is one of the most popular attractions in northern England. Set atop an archaeological excavation of the Viking city, you can see foundations of Viking buildings under a glass floor before hopping on a ride that takes you through a village of animatronic Vikings. No, I’m not kidding, and it’s as silly as it sounds. Anyone over ten will probably feel a little embarrassed by the whole show and leave knowing only slightly more about the Vikings than when they arrived. Your kids will love it, though, especially when they spot the constipated Viking groaning in the outhouse.

%Gallery-105370%4. Walk the walls. York has one of the best preserved medieval walls in England, and you can walk on all of it. The walk goes for two miles around the historic heart of York and is only interrupted in one small section. The walk takes you past some of the city’s highlights like the Minster as well as quieter residential areas.

5. Visit the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall. Medieval churches and streets are a dime a dozen here in historic Europe, but how often do you get to see a medieval guildhall? As international commerce rose in the late Middle Ages, trade guilds became more important. Eventually their power displaced rivaled even the king’s and led to the capitalist society we have today. Merchants have been meeting in this timber-framed mansion for 650 years to plan voyages and explore new trade routes. On display are some of the treasures they brought back, as well as a letter to Henry VIII complaining that one of their ships got attacked by pirates!

There’s also a beautifully preserved Norman castle with a grim history. I’ll be talking about that in my next post in the series–Castles of Yorkshire.

Shopping in York
York’s labyrinthine streets are filled with shops selling everything from local produce (I highly recommend the cheese) to toys and fashion. It’s hard to give a breakdown of all there is to buy, since pretty much everything is available. Visit York has a good online shopping guide where you can search by subject. One thing I noticed was that it has one of the biggest selections of used and antiquarian bookshops of any English town I’ve visited. There are plenty of antique shops too, but they’re only for those with a healthy bank account.

Drinking and Dining in York
There’s no shortage of good eats in Yorkshire. Once again Visit York has a good online guide. My favorite was Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms, which for almost a century has been serving up great tea, scones, and desserts in elegant Art Deco surroundings. It’s usually packed, though, so be prepared to wait in line. They have a shop too. York has a large number of restaurants for all budgets and there’s a good selection of pubs serving Yorkshire real ales. I recommend Mars Magic by Wold Top Brewery and Black Sheep Ale by Black Sheep Brewery. Both are dark, rich, full beers that make your average lager look and taste thinner than air.

Pluses and minuses
York is a great destination for shopping, dining, and sightseeing, but try to go off-season. The city center is incredibly crowded during the summer, and most weekends no matter what the time of year. This is one of the most touristy spots in England, and lacking the hugeness of London it can feel a bit cramped. It’s still well worth a visit, though.

So if you’re traveling through England’s north, don’t skip its greatest city!

Don’t miss the rest of my series on Exploring Yorkshire: ghosts, castles, and literature in England’s north.

Coming up next: The castles of Yorkshire!

This trip was sponsored by
VisitEngland and Welcome to Yorkshire.