Medieval chapel uncovered at Auckland Castle

  • 18 Feb 2020
  • Article

The remains of a long-lost medieval chapel, comparable to some of the greatest in Europe, have been uncovered at Auckland Castle.
Historical documents show that a two-storey chapel, described as ‘sumptuously constructed’ and ‘exceedingly good,’ was built at Auckland Castle in the early 1300s. It was created for Bishop Antony Bek, a great warrior and one of the most powerful and influential men in Europe at the time.

Despite it being larger than the king’s own chapel at Westminster, the exact location of the 14th century chapel has remained a mystery since its destruction in the 1650s, following the English Civil War. 

Now, following years of archaeological excavations, Bek’s Chapel has finally been discovered and the full extent of its spectacular scale will be revealed to the public in a special exhibition at Auckland Castle, from Monday, 4 March to Sunday, 6 September.

What did the archaeologists find?

The foundations of Bek’s Chapel were found during digs over a five-month period, which revealed that the walls of the medieval chapel were 1.5m thick, 12m wide and 40m long internally.

Archaeologists also found huge bases for internal columns, the buttresses along the chapel’s sides and even part of the floor. And over 300 pieces of elaborately carved stone were excavated, from fragments the size of a fist up to those the weight of a small car.  

The uncovered evidence suggests that the original chapel was a vast structure, reaching towards the size of continental chapels such as Sainte-Chapelle in Paris.  

Archaeologists believe the chapel’s size, scale and decoration would have been a statement of the status of Bishop Bek, who as Prince Bishop of Durham held remarkable powers to mint coinage, raise armies and even rule on behalf of the king.

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