Long-lost Medieval Friary Found Beneath English Car Park
British archaeologists have long speculated over the most probable site for a long lost medieval Friary that once stood in open countryside near Gloucester, England. Now it’s been discovered, but not in its tranquil English old-world setting, rather, beneath a carpark and bus station.
Every British reader knows the poem telling the story of Dr. Foster. While traveling to Gloucester, a city in the west of England near the Cotswolds rural area, on a particularly rainy day, as fate would have it that doctor stepped in a puddle, right up to his middle, and never went there again.
Famous for its blend of Romanesque and Gothic architecture, the 11th-century Gloucester Cathedral features the tomb of King Edward II, and in 1920 historian Boyd Smith suggested Dr. Foster was in fact Edward I of England - who often travelled to Gloucester on religious affairs.
Was Dr. Foster actually King Edward I of England? (Public Domain)
However, Gloucester History No 8, says Doctor Foster was an emissary of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, “who visited Gloucester with instructions that all communion tables should be placed at the east end of the church… but he was unable to reach Deerhurst because the Severn was in flood.” Whoever the doctor actually was, what is known is that he was traveling to Gloucester on a religious mission, and now, archaeologists from Gloucester City Council and Cotswold Archaeology have discovered the lost remains of the long-lost Whitefriars Carmelite Friary.
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The Medieval Friary that Became a Car Park
Throughout the religious struggles of the 16th-century, Gloucester aligned with the Protestants and in the reign of Queen Mary, Bishop Hooper was burned in Gloucester as a warning to the county against turning on Catholicism. The medieval Friary was a central religious hub in Gloucester during these troublesome times. It was discovered after a year of excavations on the site of the former Bruton Way multi-story car park and adjoining bus station, as part of the £85million King's Quarter project.
The Friary was founded around 1268 or 1269 AD and an entry in Friaries-Gloucester informs that by 1337 AD there were “31 residential friars,” and just in case you don’t know, like I didn’t, the difference between a friar and a monk is that the former lives and works among regular people in society, while the monk lives with a secluded self-sufficient group of monks, distanced from local communities.
‘St Joseph with Carmelite Doctors’ (Lawrence OP /CC BY NC ND 2.0)
According to an article in Punchline-Gloucester, archaeologist Andrew Armstrong said that for around 300 years Whitefriars Friary played an active part in Gloucester and produced some notable friars, including Nicholas Cantelow (or Cantilupe) in the 15th century, and David Bois. However, when the dissolution of the monasteries occurred between 1536 and 1541 AD the religious institution had only three remaining friars. Most of it was destroyed around 1567 AD when all resources and materials from the ancient religious buildings were reused as fortifications to defend the city of Gloucester during the English Civil War.
Everything is in Alignment with Biblical Traditions
The medieval Friary was discovered on a site that has long been called “ Friars' Ground,” but Andrew Armstrong explained that historic sources had all suggested the friary was located next to Market Parade, and this was actually a swerve ball that has served only to confuse historians and archaeologists, until now. What has been discovered so far are four large medieval stone buildings, with meter-wide walls, and mortared floors, aligning east-west, following the Biblical notion that the returning Christ will do so from the east, hence, all medieval Christian graves face east, towards the daily rising sun, or son.
Now that the shells of the ancient buildings have been excavated, Andrew Armstrong told The BBC that further archaeological investigations will now dig deeper into the foundations of the buildings, hoping to improve the archaeological understanding of how this intriguing religious site functioned during different periods.
The shells of the medieval Friary buildings have been excavated. (Cotswold Archaeology)
And with 800 years of settlement, expansion, destruction, and rebuilding to explore, the team of researchers certainly has their work cut out for 2021. If my suspicions are correct they might find the remains of a puddle near the front door of the Friary, and maybe even the footsteps of a doctor who might have visited this Friary while disguised as King Edward II.
Top Image: Ruins of the medieval friary found under the car park. (Cotswold Archaeology) "The White Friars and Church of St. Mary de Crypt in Gloucester" drawn and etched by Samuel Lysons. (ancestryimages.com)
By Ashley Cowie