Leicester Cathedral Revealed – archaeological excavation begins at Leicester Cathedral

University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) are delighted to announce that we have been appointed archaeological contractors for the Leicester Cathedral Revealed project.

How Leicester Cathedral could look after £11.3m revamp - Leicestershire Live
An artist’s impression of how the visitor and learning centre will look outside Leicester Cathedral (Image: van Heyningen and Haward Architects)

Now that the Old Song School has been demolished we have a team of archaeologists on site monitoring ground works including the removal of old foundations and the installation of trench sheeting and the contiguous piled wall for the basement of the new visitor and learning centre.

This is the first stage of the archaeological investigation and already a number of 19th century burials, some in brick-lined graves, have been uncovered, recorded and carefully excavated (we will share more about these discoveries in our next blog). Over the next few weeks, the team will continue excavating the upper burial soil within the footprint of the new building to ensure that no burials are accidentally damaged by the initial construction work.

ULAS archaeologists start work at Leicester Cathedral. (Image: ULAS)

Then, once the piled wall is in place, we will return for a second main stage of work early in 2022 when we will excavate the basement area. We expect this to take 6-8 months because we will find burials dating back perhaps a thousand years and beneath them Roman archaeology.

The skeletons will be analysed by a team of specialists before they are all carefully and sensitively reburied. This will give us a fascinating insight into the lives of the people who lived in Leicester in the past.

We also hope to learn more about the history of the Cathedral site. The medieval church of St Martin was the principal church of the borough and was first mentioned by name in AD 1220. It is thought to be much older, however, probably pre-dating the Norman conquest of England in AD 1066 and it is hoped that this excavation of the graveyard will give new insights into the early history of the church.

The excavation will also provide a rare opportunity to excavate an area of the Roman town which is not usually accessible to archaeologists. This is the south-east quarter of the Roman settlement of Ratae Corieltavorum which lies beneath the historic area of Leicester city centre, focused around the High Street, The Lanes and the market. Part of a Roman building was found beneath the Cathedral’s tower when it was rebuilt in 1861 and our excavation, close to the Cathedral, will reveal more about Roman activity in the area.

The archaeological team is being led by John Thomas, Deputy Director at ULAS and Mathew Morris, a Project Officer at ULAS who supervised the successful archaeological search for the lost grave of King Richard III in 2012.

We will do our best to keep the public informed about what we are finding as the project progresses so watch this space and for updates from Leicester Cathedral.

Leicester Cathedral Revealed is a £12.7m restoration of the Grade II* Cathedral, made possible with the Heritage Fund. Find out more about the project at https://leicestercathedral.org/

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