CBA Occasional Papers

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The archaeology of churches. A report from the Churches Committee of the CBA presented to the conference on the archaeology of churches held at Norwich on April 13-15, 1973

Margaret Jesson (Prepared by)

CBA Occasional Papers No. 5 (1973)


Title page of report 5

In 1966 it became apparent that because of structural weaknesses in the fabric, new foundations would have to be constructed below York Minster. It was immediately clear that the archaeological deposits representing the early history of the church and its site would be destroyed in the process. The opportunity was grasped, and the Minster Excavations Committee has recorded a quite remarkable story starting in Roman times and ending only with the completion of the present structure. It has also demonstrated to archaeologist, churchman and layman alike that church archaeology is possible in standing churches even under conditions of extreme difficulty. It has shown that such excavations have a fundamental role to play in our understanding of the early history of the church in Britain; and it has demonstrated the need for such work when so many churches and church sites are apparently archaeologically at risk, either in alterations, redundancy proposals or development schemes.

The Council for British Archaeology is aware of the problem if only through an increasing spate of enquiries about churches and other places of worship, and about graveyards and church sites. Its newly formed Churches Committee is engaged on a thorough review of the problems posed for archaeologists by the changing spiritual and pastoral needs of the later 20th century, and the consequent alteration or abandonment of buildings and places hallowed from a century to over a millennium.

Besides the fact of the threat, a major problem is complacency amongst archaeologists. Churches are a commonplace and hitherto unthreatened part of the landscape. Their study was carried to great lengths by 19th-century architectural historians and integrated by scholars of the calibre of Clapham, Hamilton Thompson and Baldwin Brown. This has left the mistaken impression that the essential work has been done. There has also been an inevitable reluctance on the part of archaeologists to ask to dig inside churches, and on the part of church authorities to allow excavation. It is only in the light of work such as that at York Minster, and that for long carried out by archaeologists in the Netherlands, Germany and the Scandinavian countries that we can see the lacunae.

The Churches Committee has, therefore, prepared this booklet in the hope that it will draw attention to a need and an opportunity. It hopes thereby to encourage the rapid emergence of a rigorous tradition of church archaeology in Britain in which the highest standards of architectural and archaeological recording and of scholarly criticism are brought to bear on subjects so potent with historical information.


  • Title pages & foreword (pp 1-4)
  • Church archaeology: the problems (pp 5-7)
    • The CBA Churches Committee
    • The importance of church archaeology
    • State provisions for church archaeology
  • Redundancy (pp 8-16)
    • The Pastoral Measure
    • Redundant Churches
    • The number of redundancies
    • Alternative uses
    • Some regional examples
    • Rural problems
    • Urban problems
    • Nonconformist chapels and meeting houses by C F Stell
    • Roman Catholic churches
  • Everyday archaeological opportunities (pp 17-18)
    • Alterations to churches in use
    • Disappearing graveyards by Dr H L White
    • To produce an adequate record...
  • The potential of church excavation by P V Addyman (pp 19-22)
    • Past achievements
    • Present practice
    • Continental example
  • A programme of action (pp 23-24)
    • Standards of research
    • Local involvement
    • Manpower
    • National awareness
    • Legislation
  • Appendices (pp 25-36)
    • Ecclesiastical legislation
    • Secular legislation
    • Diocesan Archaeological Consultants
  • Bibliography

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The archaeology of churches. A report from the Churches Committee of the CBA presented to the conference on the archaeology of churches held at Norwich on April 13-15, 1973 (CBA Occassional Papers 5) PDF 586 Kb

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