[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] Archaeologists have begun a search for the remains of England’s King Henry I on the site of the former Reading Abbey. The abbey was party dissolved under Henry VIII’s attack on monasteries; but remained in partial use until the English Civil War.
Reading Prison, which was built on part of the site, was closed in 2013 and the UK’s Ministry of Justice has been trying to sell the site ever since. Prospective developers are said to have been put off acquiring the site because of the implications of the site’s heritage.
Now, the Ministry of Justice has begun testing the prison site and the neighbouring Victorian Roman Catholic Church using ground-penetrating radar. They are also looking to dig 12 test pits at various locations on the site.
Henry I, who founded the abbey, was the son of William the Conqueror, the Norman King who invaded England in 1066 and took control of the Crown following the Battle of Hastings. After he died in Normandy, in 1135, his body was wrapped in a bull’s hide shroud and transported to Reading where he was buried under the altar of the monastery’s chapel.
Archaeologists hope to be able to identify his remains by finding the leathery remains of his shroud; but conclusive evidence would require DNA testing which, because of the passage of time, will be difficult to obtain.
In addition to Henry I and other royals, many members of the public are buried on the site, which was used for public burials until the 1600s. It was also used for burials of prisoners sentenced to death at Reading prison and for patients from a nearby medieval lepers’ hospital.
Last year the remains of Richard III, discovered by archaeologists under a car park in 2012, were reburied in Leicester Cathedral.