Archaeologists have made an unusual discovery in the foundations of a hotel in Oxfordshire located next to the former Littlemore Priory. During the excavation by John Moore Heritage Services a total of 92 skeletons were discovered, 35 of which were female. Amongst the skeletons were thought to be some of the nuns at the Priory of Sandford, who were claimed to have died in disgrace following accusations made of their odd sexual behaviour.One of the skeletons was the body of a woman buried face-down. The position she was found in traditionally signified penance, and implies that the woman was a sinful nun, who had been buried face-down in order to atone for the sins she had committed in life.The fact she was buried outside the Priory also suggests a potentially sinful past – nuns were usually buried within the priory walls, hinting at her outcast status.Paul Murray, the leader of the archaeological team, was quoted in an article on Ancient Origins entitled ‘Numerous skeletons of sexually perverse Nuns discovered in Oxford’ as saying, “Burials within the church are likely to represent wealthy or eminent individuals, nuns and prioresses.“Those buried outside most likely represent the laity with a general desire to be buried as close to the religious heart of the church as possible.”It is thought that the woman may have been one of the sinner nuns who inhabited the Priory in 1525 when Cardinal Wolsey dissolved the nunnery after accusing its inhabitants of immoral behaviour.Originally founded in 1110 as a Benedictine house, the priory had found favour with Henry III. According to Ancient Origins, in 1517 an inspector by the name of Edmund Horde discovered that the Prioress had an illegitimate daughter, and had stolen many of the Abbey’s valuables in order to pawn them and raise money for a dowry.She had forced many of her nuns to go without food or clothing. One of her nuns had also had an illegitimate child. The Prioress had attempted to cover up her behaviour, but other nuns exposed her, and the Priory was ultimately dissolved by Cardinal Wolsey.Of the former Priory, only a small fraction remains – as a derelict pub. The skeletons have been taken away by researchers from the University of Reading for further analysis, after which they will be reburied on consecrated ground. The site of the burial ground will become part of a hotel development.
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