St Bees Man
St Bees Man is the name given, in lieu of a known identity when discovered, to the extremely well preserved body of a mediaeval man, discovered in the grounds of St Bees Priory in 1981, during an archaeological dig by the University of Leicester on the site of the ruined chancel aisle, built about 1300. His identity has subsequently been established as Anthony de Lucy, who died in 1368.
The 1981 dig examined two areas of the ruined chancel aisle at the west end of the priory. The aisle was built in about 1300 in the Decorated style, and is thought to have fallen into ruin before the dissolution of the priory in 1539 due to structural failure caused by poor foundations.
St Bees Man was found buried in a wooden coffin, within which the body had been wrapped in a lead sheet. Despite the lead sheet being damaged at the foot end, the body was in a remarkable state of preservation. The body was wrapped in two shrouds, which are on display in the priory.
The coffin and contents were examined forensically over the following week. The body was reported to exhibit pink skin and visible irises immediately after being exhumed. An autopsy performed on the body shortly after its discovery indicated that the cause of death was most likely a haemothorax caused by a direct blow to the torso.
Although the body was about six hundred years old, his nails, skin and stomach contents were found to be in near-perfect condition. The lead sheet in which the body was wrapped excluded moisture whilst the beeswax coating of the shroud excluded air.
The identity of St Bees Man is now almost certain to be have been that of Anthony de Lucy, who died in 1368, a knight, who died in the Teutonic Crusades in Lithuania. This was established in 2010 after an osteobiographical approach was taken to identifying the skeleton of the woman who was buried with him, which was still available for analysis using modern methods developed since the remains were found in 1981. It is now evident that after his death the vault was enlarged to take the body of his sister, Maud de Lucy, who died in 1398.
Anthony was the last of the male line and the de Lucy estates passed to Maud on his death. Maud also inherited considerable estates after the death of her first husband Gilbert de Umfraville in 1380/81, and probably in a move to ally herself politically with the Percy family, Henry Percy purchased the licence fee on Gilbert’s lands and, therefore, the hand of Maud in 1381.
Maud's connection with St Bees is proven by an existing stone in the belfry which carries the quartered arms of the de Lucy and Percy families. Maud insisted on this quartering as part of the marriage agreement probably so that the de Lucy arms should be perpetuated.
There is an extensive history display in the priory in which the shrouds are exhibited. Effigies thought to be of both Maud and Anthony can also be seen.
- Text of lecture given by John M Todd at the Post Graduate Seminar on Medieval history, Lancaster University, Sept, 1987, and later at Oxford, Copenhagen and St Andrews universities.
- C J Knusel et al - The identity of the St Bees lady, Cumbria: An osteobiographical approach. Medieval Archaeology - vol 54, 2010.doi:10.1179/174581710X12790370815931