St Helen's Church

Priest’s Body Found Buried Under Altar

It’s the time of year when Christmas mystery stories emerge. We have one of our own which involves a body found in 1934 buried under the altar in St Helens Church.

This story originally appeared in the ‘Doncaster Star’ in January 2001:-

Some interesting discoveries were made in October 1934 under the altar and chancel floor of Burghwallis Church, pictured above.

Under the altar the body of an unknown priest, probably buried some 500 years before was found – and under the chancel floor a grave slab with the name Ellena Anne, and a lead coffin, perfectly  preserved.

The Rector of Burghwallis, the Rev J. Wallis Kidd  has become worried about the safety of the chancel floor, and decided to have it excavated to see if any repairs were necessary. Most of the altar floor and the chancel floor were removed, and the church was closed to the public. It was thought the floor of the chancel was repaved in about 1850 but it was not known whether it was one large vault under the chancel floor or number of small vaults.

The Rev J. Wallis Kidd  gave details of the excavation work and said “The floor was in an unsafe condition soon became apparent!”  “No sooner had  the workers taken off the top layer of stones than the earth began to disappear under their feet!”

“There was a small hole in the ground and through this the earth was disappearing. An electric lamp was let down into what was small vault. There were bones and skulls and loose earth over wooden coffin that was on the floor.”

“We took off the top and found the body of a man who had obviously been a priest. It was half clothed in the original vestment clothes. There  are no records of who this priest was” said Rev Kidd “but he must have been a person of some importance on account of his burial position. He was buried directly under the altar.”

Doncaster Star January 2001.

If anyone with good memory around at the time; 2001, 1934, or 1533, who can remember the name of the priest we would love to hear from you. 500 years ago would take us back to the reformation. Was this a catholic priest buried in secret? Ellena Anne was catholic. 

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