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- Examining the Lead Coffins
Examining the Lead Coffins
The preferred burial site of the English of high social standing was under the floor of a church, rather than outside in the churchyard. The higher the person’s status, the closer to the altar the grave. At the Brick Chapel, no one was buried within twelve feet of the door, which was farthest from the altar.
Who lay in three lead coffins beneath what was once a floor of imported stone? Why were they buried in such a prominent location? Only the careful planning and contributions of many scientists, engineers, and other specialists answered these questions.
The largest of the three lead coffins contained the poorly preserved, possibly embalmed remains of a male in his mid-50s, about 5 feet 6 inches tall, right-handed, with no evidence of heavy physical labor. Carbon-isotope testing indicated that he was English but had lived in Maryland several years. Pollen evidence in the coffin indicated a winter death.
Only one man matched the male’s forensic profile—his age, season of death, status, religion, and extended stay in the Chesapeake. He was Philip Calvert, son of the first Lord Baltimore. He had come to America in 1657, and served as Maryland’s governor, chancellor, and chief judge. He died in the winter of 1682–1683. The woman’s coffin was placed close to his, in an arrangement typical of husband and wife. His first wife, Anne Wolseley Calvert, matched the forensic profile of the female buried there.
The smallest coffin contained the remains of an infant buried later than the other two. Given Anne’s age, the child could not have been hers, but might have been the child of Philip’s second wife, a young woman named Jane Sewell, who survived her husband and moved to England in 1684. Perhaps DNA testing will one day solve this mystery.
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