“Little of importance that has happened in England’s story has not been echoed in St. Bride’s”
Originating from Roman times over 2000 years ago, St. Bride’s is now in its 8th reincarnation. The Blitz left the previous church a “smouldering shell”. But, the devastation of WWII turned out to be surprisingly rewarding when the excavators and archeologists moved in, adding nearly 1000 years to the already known history of St. Bride’s. Within the crypts in the basement of St. Bride’s you can plainly see the different layers of centuries in the very walls.
Having been previously destroyed in The Great Fire of London in 1666, Sir Christopher Wren rebuilt the church on top of 6 previous churches, bringing together a vast area of crypts. In 1854 London was experiencing the severe destruction of cholera. The crypts were full and therefore sealed up by the authorities and closed to the public eye, until WWII happened.
Since excavation began, the remains of about 200 people have been found in one crypt, dating around the 1840’s. Most of them well preserved with grave-marker plates, it has enabled researchers to pinpoint against written records who these people were, where they lived, their occupation and their official cause of death. Modern technology, however, may have something different to say. This is where Professor Gerald Conlogue comes in.
On loan from Quinnipiac University of Conneticut, USA, Gerald is a Professor of the Diagnostic Imaging Program and co-director of the Bioanthropology Research Unit. He specializes in radiography and can’t fail to hide his glea as he works his way through the 1000’s of bones that await his scrutiny. Using x-ray he analyzes and records data that he finds.
With x-ray you can see internal breaks and discover whether they were made before or after death and also whether the state of the body corresponds with the official cause of death.
Gerald reasons the importance of his work, claiming that anyone can read a history book and gather information and make up half-theories and suppositions, but you were not there at the time and neither was the person who wrote the book. The information Gerald is gathering is “fact”. He shows me a jaw-bone that he is working on. There is an abscess in one of the back teeth so huge that the person would have died trying to endure the most agonizing pain. On the x-ray we can see what teeth fell out post-mortem and those pre-mortem. You can tell by the fact that you can see the bone trying to re-grow in some areas. These were the days when people could die from simple untreated teeth problems. An untreated abscess could lead to death by blood poisoning. There was no anaesthetic until after the 1850’s, so people often preferred not to have teeth pulled out for fear of dying from blood loss.
Gerald is working with “real” conclusions. Presumptions that can be over-ruled and turned into a fact. As he is only working on bones with allocated grave markers, he is not concerning himself with the other crypt that excavators uncovered. Right next door to where Gerald is working is the Medieval Charnel House crypt which houses some 7000 human remains.
Such was the lack of burial space that someone has actually come in at some point and re-organized the bones, stacking them neatly in their proper categories. Sadly, there is no written records to support these remains and thus will not be worked on by Gerald. On the other hand, it would seem such a shame to destroy such careful handiwork, something that is the most telling fact about this crypt yet. I look forward very much to Gerald’s progress.
Next week’s”LONDON INSIGHT”:
WILTONS MUSIC HALL