A Winchester church is hoping to solve the mystery of where King Alfred the Great is buried.
Rev Cliff Bannister is preparing an application to exhume and study the bones believed to lie in an unmarked grave outside St Bartholomew’s in Hyde.
It is thought it may hold the bones of the Saxon king after an earlier burial under nearby Hyde Abbey was dug up in the 18th century.
Mr Bannister has been taking soundings locally to gauge support for the potentially controversial measure. He said feedback had been positive: “It is a mystery to solve. Why do we not know who is in there? Why is there no writing on the gravestone?”
Mr Bannister stressed: “The project will be done with dignity and respect. If there is the slightest possibility that they may belong to so distinguished and historically important a figure as Alfred the Great, or his son King Edward or his wife Alswitha, then we feel a moral obligation to remedy this gap in recognition.”
The church must get permission from a diocesan advisory panel, consult national agencies such as English Heritage before final approval from the diocesan chancellor, Judge Christopher Clark QC. An application could be made next year, said Mr Bannister.
He added that the bones should get their proper recognition and memorial whether they are Alfred’s or not.
Scientists will be eager to analyse the remains. There could be work with German scientists who have analysed the skeleton of Alfred’s granddaughter in Magdeburg, Germany.
Work is also set to take place on analysing the contents of the mortuary chests in Winchester Cathedral where later Saxon kings are held. They have recently been removed for analysis.
The ‘Alfred’ grave was built in 1867 after an archaeological dig, and no-one knows if the
bones inside are royal or perhaps those of a Benedictine monk.
This weekend is King Alfred Weekend that marks the anniversary of his death in 899. Centred on St
Bartholomew’s church it includes an art exhibition, called Leylines, a lecture by Dr Ryan Lavelle, a historical activities day tomorrow (Saturday), a concert and then a parish communion on Sunday.