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Builders discover secret tomb containing remains of former archbishops of Canterbury

(Wikimedia Commons/Fæ)View of Lambeth Palace from the river bank.

Builders working on the renovation of St. Mary-at-Lambeth Church in London were astonished to find a secret tomb that contained the remains of five archbishops of Canterbury.

The church that sits next to the Lambeth Palace, the official London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, was closed in October 2015 to undergo a £7.5 million redevelopment and become the site of the Garden Museum.

Karl Patten, the site manager of Rooff Ltd, said that they uncovered an entry to what appeared to be a tomb while they were lifting slabs in the area.

"We got a camera on the end of a stick and discovered numerous coffins and one of them had a gold crown on top of it," Patten said, according to the Belfast Telegraph.

Christopher Woodward, director of the Garden Museum, thought that there was a problem at the site when he received a call from Patten, but he soon realized that the crown was the "mitre of an Archbishop gleaming there in the dark."

He said that one of those buried in the tomb was Richard Bancroft, who was archbishop in 1604 and who chaired the committee that translated the King James Bible that was published in 1611.

Bancroft, along with John Moore, were identified by the name plates on the coffins. The museum officials also expressed their belief that Frederick Cornwallis, Matthew Hutton, and Thomas Tenison are also inside.

At least 20 coffins have been identified, but Woodward said they "still don't know who else is down there."

Wesley Kerr, former chairman of the Heritage Lottery Fund London, described the find as "one of the most incredible" things he has seen.

"To know that possibly the person that commissioned the King James Bible is buried here is the most incredible discovery and greatly adds to the texture of this project," he said.

Woodward said that they thought there was no crypt at the church because it was so close to the Thames that it would have flooded.

He explained that the Victorians cleared numerous coffins when they remodeled the church in the 1850s.

Woodward further noted that "every archaeologist in London" have looked at the site and that "no one told them to expect to find anything" during the renovation works.

The renovation project, which is being supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, is expected to be completed this spring. It will contain a courtyard for education, five galleries, and a garden when the building is opened to the public.

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