Mystery solved: Bones found in church wall are from princess saint

HUMAN remains held at a church in Kent have been confirmed as those of one of the earliest English saints in a “stunning result of national importance”.

Bones dating back to around the seventh century are almost certainly those of St Eanswythe, a Kentish saint and who was the daughter and granddaughter of Anglo-Saxon kings. The relics survived the upheavals of the Reformation, hidden in a church wall, and were discovered in 1885. 

The patron saint of Folkestone, the princess is believed to have founded one of the first convents in England, most likely around AD660 in the original town centre. 

She is thought to have died in her late teens or early 20s and the abbey either fell into the sea or was ransacked by Vikings. 

Now more than 1,300 years after her death, local archaeologists and historians, working with Queen’s University in Belfast, have confirmed that human remains kept in the town’s Church of St Mary and St Eanswythe are almost certainly those of the saint. 

The remarkable discovery was revealed at a special event at the church last night to mark the start of British Science Week 2020. 

Dr Andrew Richardson, from Canterbury Archaeological Trust, said: “This locally based community partnership has produced a stunning result of national importance. 

“It now looks highly probable that we have the only surviving remains of a member of the Kentish royal house, and of one of the earliest Anglo-Saxon saints.” 

Tooth and bone samples were carbon dated and the results pointed to a high probability of a mid-seventh century date of death.

Her grandfather, King Ethelbert, was the first English king to convert to Christianity under Augustine, who landed not far from Folkestone in AD597 to re-establish Christianity, which had almost been wiped out by the pagan Anglo-Saxons. Dr Richardson added: “There is more work to be done to realise the full potential of this discovery.

“But certainly the project represents a wonderful conjunction not only of archaeology and history, but also of a continuous living faith tradition at Folkestone from the mid-seventh century right down to the present day.”

The project, locally led and run, was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. 

The Rev Dr Lesley Hardy, director of the Finding Eanswythe project, said: “As you walk through the streets of Folkestone, you are walking, layer upon layer, over ancient history that is now largely hidden from view. 

“Finding Eanswythe was about bringing that forgotten history back to the surface.” 



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