Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Bartholomaeuskirche Finds

Today, I would like to discuss grave finds that I expect will interest Suvia, whose primary area of costuming research is the Merovingian period.

In 1992, an early medieval burial consisting of the remains of two young children, one cremated, one not, was found beneath Bartholomaeuskirche. Bartholomaeuskirche translates (so I understand) as "St. Bartholomew's Church", and it is the cathedral in Frankfurt, Germany (and is also referred to as Frankfurt Cathedral). The Bartholomaeuskirche find has recently come back into the news because an analysis of the finds has finally been published. The book, written in German, can be purchased for 34,95 Euros here, and its existence is making me think about resuming my efforts to learn German. For now, I will have to be content with the news article on the Archaeology News Network ("ANN") site, which may be read here.

According to the ANN article, the find consists of the remains of two children, each about four years old at the time of death.  The remains of both were found in a single coffin. One had been buried in gold and jewels in the Merovingian style, while the other, who had been cremated, had been wrapped in a bearskin and adorned with animal teeth, supposedly as was part of pagan traditions from Scandinavia at that time.  The archaeologists have dated the grave to between 700 and 730 CE-- the early 8th century. The burial place was originally a priest's residence near what was then a very tiny church.

The "mystery" referred to in the article's headline is the fact that we do not know who the children may have been, let alone why they were buried so closely together.  The article reports the surmise that they may have been a boy and a girl promised to each other in marriage for some reason.  Even more frustrating is the fact, reported in the article, that Frankfurt does not have many surviving textile or metal material culture remains from the 8th century, so life in the city itself at that time is its own mystery.

What frustrates me about the article--and makes me want to see the book published about the finds--is the fact that there were clearly surviving textiles associated with the Merovingian girl.  The ANN article states:
Fine clothing found on the girl's body, including a tunic and shawl, and jewellery made of gold, silver, bronze and precious stones – including ear and finger rings, armbands, a necklace and brooches – are clear indicators of her high status.
The article includes some wonderful photographs of the gold jewelry, including several rings and a necklace with multiple pendants.  But there are no photographs of the clothing, and not even any indication whether the clothing survives mostly intact, let alone what materials it was made from or any details of how it was made.

Anyway, if anyone purchases the book, or has other information about this find, please let Suvia know, and let me know what you've learned in the comments!


  1. Just pitching in to say that Bartholomäuskirche is indeed St Bartholomew's church. (ä can be rendered as ae if no umlaut is available) It's official name though is Kaiserdom St. Bartholomäus - Imperial Cathedral of St Bartholomew.

    1. Hi! Thanks for visiting, and for your comment. I am still very bad at keeping track of where umlauts are required in German. :-)