The Chapel Excavations

The chapel excavations within the Inner Ward of Bamburgh Castle, 2004 and 2008

In the next few blog posts we will explore the excavations undertaken around the chapel area within Bamburgh Castle

The fortress of Bamburgh has a long history of housing a chapel, and still does to this very day, albeit in a ruinous state. However, none of what remains above ground harks back to the 8th century chapel reputed to dwell within the walls of the Bernician capital, which supposedly housed the reliquary of St Oswald. The surviving ruin of the chapel, in the north east corner of the innerward, comprises a nave, square chancel and semi-circular apse. The 12th-century apse is the sole medieval element of the chapel to survive above ground, the other walls being of post-medieval date.

The surviving parts of the chapel looking north.

The Bamburgh Research Project has had the opportunity to explore the chapel within the Inner Ward during both the 2004 and 2008 seasons.


Investigation began with a geophysical survey of the inside of the remaining chapel in 1997 and 2000 using resistivity and GPR instruments. The data showed two high resistance peaks, suggesting that there was the potential for human activity below ground. The results were interpreted as been a possible vaulted area (crypt) and the foundations for a chapel arch. In 2004 the BRP decided to put these theories to the test.


The excavations comprised of two trenches each 5m by 3m and oriented east to west. BRP Trench 6 was sited over the possible crypt anomaly and Trench 7 over one of the suspected chancel arch foundations, in the central eastern end of the chapel.

A birdseye view of the two trenches under excavation

Trench 7 under excavation

Trench 6 under excavation

Unfortunately the potential vaulted space in Trench 6 proved to be natural dolorite bedrock. However, the trench did throw up some interesting finds, including a well constructed wall with a right angle return heading into the northern wall of the trench. Within this trench we also found probable evidence of antiquarian ‘wall chasing’ in the form of a linear sand deposit.

The wall with the return into section and sand feature to the left of shot.

Within our second trench (T7) we found a stone wall, on the same alignment as that identified within Trench 6. This wall was cut into a deposit full of animal bone suggestive of a midden layer. A pottery find and c14 dating for seeds suggests that this was a Roman deposit.

The wall in T7

Beyond this, the geophysical anomaly which had attracted the trench in the first place proved to be part of the 12th century foundations. Its size 2m x 0.63m indicates a substantial structural feature, such as the foundation for a chapel arch.

The probable church arch support

The discoveries from this season provided us with a tantalising glimpse into the possible structures in-and-around the present chapel. In the next post we will explore the excavations undertaken in 2008.

One thought on “The Chapel Excavations

  1. Pingback: Contagions Round-up 15: Vampires, Vikings and Viruses « Contagions

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