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Rare Artifacts Discovered at Tudor Manor

During roof restoration of the manor, built in 1482, thousands of rare artifacts beneath the attic floor boards.

Scaffolding on Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk
Credit: Ian Ward | National Trust Images

While most of England was on lockdown amid the pandemic, archaeologist Matt Champion was working solo at Oxburgh Hall, a moated Tudor mansion in Norfolk.

As part of the site’s £6 million (roughly $7.8 million) roof restoration project, workers had lifted the floorboards in the estate’s attic for the first time in centuries. Probing the recesses beneath the boards with gloved fingertips, Champion expected to find dirt, coins, bits of newspapers and detritus that had fallen through the cracks. Instead, he discovered a veritable treasure trove of more than 2,000 items dating as far back as the 15th century.

British nobleman Sir Edmund Bedingfeld built the manor house in 1482, reports BBC News. His descendants live in the home to this day. As devout Catholics, the Bedingfelds were ostracized for their faith, particularly after Elizabeth I succeeded to the throne in 1558. The year after the Protestant queen’s ascension, Sir Henry Bedingfeld refused to sign the Act of Uniformity, which outlawed Catholic mass.

The Kynges Psalmes
The Kynges Psalmes | Credit: National Trust

The Bedingfelds hid men of the cloth in a secret “priest hole” at their home and participated in secret masses. The religious artifacts discovered in the attic may have been used in these illegal services.

Among the discoveries are scraps of Tudor and Georgian silks, wools, leather, velvet, satin and embroidered fabrics, reports the London Times. A builder found a relatively intact 1568 copy of Catholic martyr John Fisher’s The Kynge’s Psalmes - in a hole in the attic.

Another worker discovered a rare item in the rubble underneath one of the attic’s eaves. The team collaborated with James Freeman, a medieval manuscripts specialist at Cambridge University Library, to identify the 600-year-old parchment fragment, still glimmering with gold leaf and bright blue ink, as part of the Latin Vulgate’s Psalm 39.

Fragment of a 15th-century illuminated manuscript
A 15th-century illuminated manuscript | Credit: National Trust

“The use of blue and gold for the minor initials, rather than the more standard blue and red, shows this would have been quite an expensive book to produce,” says National Trust curator Anna Forrest. She adds that the page’s small size indicates it was probably part of a Book of Hours, or portable prayer book meant for personal use.

“It is just the most exquisite thing, and to have found it literally in a pile of rubble is probably … well, it’s unheard of for the National Trust, that’s for sure,” Forrest told the Guardian.

Researchers also uncovered tiny fragments thought to come from a 1590 edition of a Spanish chivalric romance book, The ancient, famous and honorable history of Amadis de Gaule. In a statement, the trust notes that Catholics often read Spanish romances, which included references to mass and other Catholic themes, during this time of persecution.

“These finds are far beyond anything we expected to see,” says Russell Clement, general manager at Oxburgh Hall, adding: “These objects contain so many clues which confirm the history of the house as the retreat of a devout Catholic family, who retained their faith across the centuries. … This is a building which is giving up its secrets slowly. We don’t know what else we might come across - or what might remain hidden for future generations to reveal.”

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