The Dead Beneath our Feet

Nicholas Orme considers how the crowded cities of medieval England dealt with the death and burial of their citizens.

Imagine a summer’s day outside a cathedral. Let us say in Exeter in Devon, but we could as well be at Salisbury, Wells, or many other great churches. Around the building is a wide green lawn, shaded by trees, where people are picnicking, talking, embracing, and sunning themselves. Do they know what is under their feet? Bones! Thousands and thousands of them: bones of Viking victims, bones of the dead of the Black Death and the Sweating Sickness, bones of mayors and aldermen, tradesmen and clergy, rich and poor, parents and children – all literally inches beneath the turf.

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