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The Forgottoen Burial of William Lyndwood

In 1852, builders tasked with taking down the walls of the ruined St Mary's Chapel found an unexpected burial in the north wall. St Mary's was the chapel underneath St Stephen's Chapel, since 1548 the home of the House of Commons, and until 1548 was part of the same collegiate complex.

Since the 1834 fire, work on the modern Houses of Parliament was stripping away earlier layers of building and repair work and some very surprising discoveries were made.

The body of William Lyndwood, well preserved and still with his bishop's mitre and crozier, lay within the rubble core of the wall, unmarked by any surviving plaque on the outside. The Victorian builders knew St Mary's only as the dining room of the Speaker of the House of Commons' house, so the find generated considerable interest

The Burial

In the winter of 1446 Lyndwood's funeral and burial took place in St Mary's. It was the end of a long and distinguished career, but it was the start of an even longer afterlife. Every year from 1447 to 1548 on the anniversary of his death all the canons of St Stephen's said Mass for his soul and  every single day of the year two priests said other masses for his soul.

Their wages were paid for by income from lands bought with the 24 marks (£16, a large sum!) handed over to the college by Lyndwood's executors in 1454. The priests' prayers, both yearly and daily, were intended to speed the bishop's soul to Heaven.

William Lyndwood's life

William Lyndwood was born around 1375 and died on 21 October 1446. The son of a prosperous wool merchant in Lincolnshire, Lyndwood went into the church and did well. When he died, he was a trusted servant of the king, Henry VI, bishop of St David's in Wales and a leading figure in collecting and summarising English Church law. He left a copy of his book, the Provinciale, to be chained in the chapel vestry of St Stephen's as a reference work. He also was a diplomat, whose travels took him to France, the Netherlands, Portugal, and the Council of Basle in 1433.

Lyndwood at St Mary's

So why did a major bishop ask to be buried in the wall of a palace chapel? Why not be buried in his own cathedral? We don't have a definitive answer to this. His will gives little clues, only telling us the form of his remembrances rather than the why. He was a royal servant often based at Westminster and so would have known many of the canons, and would have been to services in the chapels. St Mary Undercroft was a popular place for burials in the fifteenth century, so perhaps he wanted friends and fellow royal servants to be the ones responsible for the masses for his soul.

Learn more with our further reading list.



Last updated April 2017


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