1300 buried in a medieval cemetery under St. John’s

Sam Rhodes 1 April 2015

The skeletons in St. John’s College’s closet have finally been revealed, as an archaeological dig has unearthed 1,300 graves beneath the Old Divinity School. The bodies date from the 13th to the 15th centuries, buried in the cemetery of a medieval hospital.

The burial ground, part of the Hospital of St John the Evangelist, which the college is named after, is now beneath the Old Divinity School.

Although the existence of the burial ground has been known since the mid 20th century, it had not been properly excavated until 2010 when the Old Divinity School was renovated. The dig was led by Dr Craig Cessford, of the department of Archaeology and Anthropology, who described it as "one of the largest medieval hospital osteoarchaeological assemblages from the British Isles".

The results of the dig, which were published in the latest issue of the Archeological Journal, showed that, despite rumours, the people had not died from the Black Death, as no evidence of the disease was found when the skeletons were analysed. Additionally, although the graves were lined up and surrounded by flowers, as with a modern cemetery, the majority of skeletons were not buried in coffins or shrouds, suggesting that the burial ground was intended for the poor.