Medieval Coffin of St John's – Chester, England - Atlas Obscura

Medieval Coffin of St John's

Church of St. John the Baptist

A rare wooden coffin set vertically into the Gothic arch of an ruined church.  


Just past the ancient Roman amphitheater outside the city walls of Chester, England, lies the half-ruined Church of St. John the Baptist.

The building is a mixture of Norman and early English Gothic architecture and is much smaller than it once was. A still-functioning Anglican church now sits nestled within great sandstone ruins that speak to its former size and glory. St. John’s is notable, too, in that it has a long history of falling down: Towers collapsed in 1468, 1572, 1574, and 1881.

In what remains of the church’s western tower, set high into one of the Gothic arches, is a wooden coffin. An account from the 19th century indicates that a church sexton discovered the coffin while digging a grave in a disused section of the cemetery. The rector ordered it placed high up on the wall, out of reach (but not of sight) of curious passersby. 

The coffin is odd in that it is carved entirely out of a block of oak. Its date is uncertain; signs in the churchyard claim it to be as old as the 11th century. The vivid inscription bearing the words “Dust to Dust” is more probably a Victorian rather than a medieval addition. 

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January 29, 2018

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