Winchester (G-B) : A contextual study of the medieval hospital and cemetery of St Mary Magdalen

Simon Roffey / Katie Tucker /Department of Archaeology, University of Winchester

Source -

International Journal of Paleopathology : to Cite or Link Using DOI


This paper examines the osteoarchaeological evidence for leprosy in 38 skeletons excavated from the north cemetery of the hospital of St Mary Magdalen, Winchester (founded by the late 11th century) between 2009 and 2011. This cemetery, to the north of the medieval chapel, represents a discrete burial area, separate from the main, more recent cemetery to the south. The analysis indicates skeletal evidence for leprosy in over 85% (33) of the burials. This is therefore a much larger percentage than has previously been recorded for British material. The skeletal remains also provide evidence for amputation, possible palliative care as well as a pilgrim burial. Overall work at Winchester represents the most extensive excavation of an early leper hospital with accompanying cemetery to date, providing a unique opportunity for the cross-examination of skeletal and contextual data. Therefore the St Mary Magdalen cemetery is discussed in reference to such issues as the status of leper hospitals and social perceptions of hospital inmates in the medieval period.


Fig. 1. Aerial view of excavations in 2011, looking north. The north wall of the medieval chapel is in the foreground (A) whilst the remains of the medieval hospital can be seen to the north (B). The northern cemetery can be seen in the centre of the trench and underlies most of the later medieval phases (C).


Fig. 2. First phase of hospital development showing northern cemetery (A) and evidence for timber structures (B). Also note evidence for a possible early chapel to the south-east, predating the 1150/1170 foundation (C).


Fig. 6. Constriction and shortening of the roots of the maxillary incisors (leprogenic odontodysplasia) in SK8.


Fig. 7. Widening and rounding of the margins of the nasal aperture and complete resorption of the anterior maxillary alveolar bone and palate in SK19.


Fig. 12. Amputation through the distal left tibia and fibula of SK19.