Remains found on building site believed to be those of patron saint
Archaeologists believe they may have found the remains of Bicester’s patron saint, St Edburg, underneath a former block of flats.
The team believe it could be the first time in the country the bones of a saint have been found.
It could take up to a year to confirm the date of the bones using specialist carbon dating technology.
Archaeologists discovered the entire north transept of the Priory Church, which is believed to stretch to Old Place Yard, Priory Road and Chapel Street. They are working in the area ahead of a huge redevelopment.
The Chapel Street excavation site where the remains of St Edburg may have been found
Site archaeologist Paul Riccoboni, of Beckley-based John Moore Heritage Services, said: “We have found a reliquary which is probably the bones of St Edburg.
“It is really exciting. A first- class reliquary is actually the bones of a saint and a second- class is the clothes of a saint.
“It is the first time I am aware of, or come across, others being found. I am assuming they are the bones of St Edburg.”
Mr Riccoboni said some of the saint’s bones were moved to Flanders in the 1500s, but thinks while half the bones were taken across the Channel, the other half remainedburied at the Priory site.
The remains, which would date back to 650 AD when St Edburg died, were found wrapped in a lead sheet near the original St Edburg shrine.
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Around 13 other skeletons have been found so far at the former flats Bryan House, in Chapel Street, which is being redeveloped into 23 homes.
The bones are believed to date back to the 14th century and may be monks or local dignitaries, including the Priory Church founder, Gilbert Bassett and his wife Egeline.
Mr Riccoboni said: “There is only one other excavation like it to a modern standard. It’s a very rare excavation.”
Bob Hessian, chairman of Bicester Local History Society, and local historian David Watts, also joined the dig.
Mr Hessian said: “The actual Priory Church was massive compared to St Edburg’s Church, probably two-and-half times the size.
“We could have bodies sited all over the place.”
Mr Watts said as a schoolboy he was involved in a dig at land where care home St Edburg’s House now sits, where more then 30 skeletons and tiles were found in the late 1960s.
He said: “It is a very important site and it is a great shame it is not being preserved for posterity.”