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Church plans to exhume grave to solve King Alfred mystery
A Hampshire church is hoping to solve the mystery of where King Alfred the Great is buried.
Rev Cliff Bannister is preparing an application to exhume and study human bones believed to be in an unmarked grave outside St Bartholomew’s Church in Hyde.
It is believed to hold the bones of the Saxon king after an earlier grave under Hyde Abbey was dug up in the 18th century.
Mr Bannister has been sounding out local opinion to gauge support for the potentially controversial measure.
He said feedback had been overwhelmingly positive.
“It is a mystery to solve. Why do we not know who is in there? Why is there no writing on the gravestone?”
“If there is the slightest possibility that they may belong to so distinguished and historically important a figure as Alfred the Great, or his son king Edward or his wife Alswitha, then we feel a moral obligation to remedy this gap in recognition.”
Mr Bannister stressed: “The project will be done with dignity and respect. It will be done properly.”
The church must first get permission from a diocesan advisory panel, consult national agencies such as English Heritage before approval from diocesan chancellor, Judge Christopher Clark QC.
Analysis Mr Bannister said: “It is a long process to get permission, but we feel the time is right to do it.”
He added that the bones should get their proper recognition and memorial whether they are Alfred’s or not.
Scientists will be eager to analyse the bones. They could work with German scientists who have analysed the skeleton of Alfred’s granddaughter in Magdeburg, Germany. Work is also set to take place on studying the contents of the mortuary chests in Winchester Cathedral where later Saxon kings are held.
The ‘Alfred’ grave was built in 1867 and the bones interred after an archaeological dig and no-one knows if the bones inside are royal or perhaps those of a Benedictine monk from the Middle Ages.
Alfred was initially buried under Hyde Abbey but dug up in 1788. The excavation in 1867 claimed to have found his bones which were then reinterred by the east window of the church.
Mr Bannister said the research idea was sparked by the Hyde 900 celebrations in 2010 which marked the 900th anniversary of the reburial of Alfred at Hyde Abbey.
This weekend is King Alfred weekend that marks the anniversary of his death in 899.
Centred on St Bartholomew’s church it includes an art exhibition, called Leylines, a lecture by Dr Ryan Lavelle, a historical activities day on Saturday, a concert and then a parish communion on Sunday.
He is the only English monarch to be called ‘Great’.
Alfred founded the navy, the shire system of local government, pioneered education, translated foreign books into English and reformed law. He also burned the cakes and defeated the Danes.