Thursday, September 18, 2014

The skeletons found holding hands

Hallaton © Graham Horn

Today's newspapers loved the story of the two skeletons that were found holding hands. But even more interesting is the place that they were found.

The University of Leicester Archaeological Services website explains:
ULAS archaeologists have been working with local volunteers to uncover the lost chapel of St Morrell overlooking the small village of Hallaton in east Leicestershire. The Fourth year of excavations with the Hallaton Fieldwork Group (HFWG) has revealed the full plan of the chapel as well as the cemetery and evidence that the hillside has been used since at least the Roman period. 
The location of the chapel was unknown before research by local historian John Morison suggested it might be on Hare Pie Bank where the annual Easter Hare Pie Scramble and Bottle Kicking take place. Geophysical survey by HFWG showed a square boundary (approximately 36m across) with features inside it. Subsequent excavations by ULAS and the group have uncovered the chapel thought to be a place of pilgrimage in the medieval period and a pilgrim badge with ‘Morrell’ inscribed on it was found within the walls of the chapel. 
The excavations have identified the walls and tiled floor of the chapel as wells as fragments of stone masonry, wall plaster, tiles and lead from the windows. A number of silver pennies dating between the 12th – 16th centuries have also been found on the site indicating when the chapel was in use.
And Dr Graham Jones will tell you all about St Morrell. His seems to have been a local cult, and he is not marked anywhere beyond Hallaton:
The name in English is derived from French and means 'small, shrivelled dark thing' - compare the name of the Morello cherry. Queen Elizabeth I of England was known (not entirely pejoratively, perhaps) as 'a little morrella'. Because of the name's unusual flavour in the context of an English local church, the conjecture has been canvassed that it is a corruption of some Old English name such as Merewalh. This was a name borne by a Mercian sub-king on the Welsh marches of England. These lie in the far west Midlands rather than the east, but Merewalh was a benefactor of an east Midlands saint, Botolph of Icanho (what later became Boston), and several of his relatives were commemorated in Leicestershire and its neighbouring counties. 
However, a much more plausible explanation, and one with evidential support, is that Morrell, 'Mawrell' in 1532, represents St Maurilius of Angers, a fifth-century bishop and patron of that French town, whose legend purported that he sought exile in England where he worked as a gardener for an English noble. The families of Norman lords of Hallaton originated in that region of France. Also, land in Leicestershire and neighbouring Warwickshire was given in the eleventh century to the monastery of St Nicholas of Angers.

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