'King Alfred The Great' Bones Exhumed From Winchester Church Over Vandalism Fears

Bones that could belong to King Alfred the Great have been exhumed from a churchyard over fears that they might be stolen or vandalised.

Archaeologists carried out the exhumation of an unmarked grave at St Bartholomew's Church in Winchester, Hampshire, this morning on church orders.

There has been speculation the bones of the legendary 9th-century king - who is said to have burnt the cakes and defeated the Danes - could be buried there and the church felt there was a heightened risk of theft.

The statue of Alfred The Great in Winchester

Interest in Alfred's resting place comes after the body of Richard III was found under a car park in Leicester.

No permission has been given to analyse the bones to see if they are those of the Saxon monarch and they are now in safe storage.

"Following the completion of work we can confirm that skeletal remains were discovered and have been exhumed from the grave," Winchester Diocesan spokesman Nick Edmonds said.

"Understandably, there is widespread interest in this situation. For now we can't say any more about the remains, their nature or whereabouts, but promise to keep people updated when there is something to tell.

"Although no application has yet been made to carry out any scientific investigation, we do acknowledge that there is local interest in learning more about the remains found in this grave."

St. Bartholomew's Church where the bones were exhumed

Edmonds said that anyone wanting to examine the bones would have to apply to the Consistory Court of The Diocese.

The Rev Canon Cliff Bannister, Rector of St Bartholomew's Church added: "I am very pleased and relieved that this sensitive procedure has been completed successfully, and that the contents of the grave are now safe and sound."

The whereabouts of the remains of Alfred has long been a mystery.

It is thought the exhumed grave may hold the bones of the king after a possible earlier burial of him under the nearby ruined Hyde Abbey was dug up in the 19th century and then reburied in the churchyard.

The University of Winchester has already said it will seek permission to examine the exhumed bones.

Doctor Katie Tucker from the university explained earlier this year that it is not known if the bones of the king were disturbed when Hyde Abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII in the 1530s.

Since then there have been several digs at the site all suggesting they have found the bones. Experts will rely on radio carbon dating to get proof, but they concede it is a long shot.

Alfred lived from 849 AD to 899 and was born in Wantage, Oxfordshire. He is the only English monarch to be afforded the title The Great. He was technically King of Wessex but later he was referred to as King of the English towards the end of his rein.

He united areas of the country and defeated the Danes in several battles before reforming the country and laying the foundations of a more modern state. He died in his capital Winchester and was buried there.

Legend has it he burnt cakes he was asked to watch over while distracted trying to think how to defeat the invaders and he had to sleep with his horse as a punishment.

The decision to carry out the exhumation was taken by the Parochial Church Council of St Bartholomew's.

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