Treasure and human remains uncovered at site of 16th century church reconstruction after it was burnt to the ground
Workers engaged in the reconstruction of a historic 16th century wooden church destroyed by fire have made a series of stunning discoveries after stumbling upon a secret crypt.
Thought to have been concealed in 1928, though possibly even earlier in the 1870s during a renovation, the entrance to the crypt at the Church of St. Dorothy & St. John the Baptist in the Mileszki district of Łódź had been hitherto covered up by sand.
Contained inside, researchers unearthed 285 objects including 194 coins, 21 crosses and medals, 11 buttons, three rings, two coffin handles, 23 ceramic fragments, eight glass fragments, and a piece of a window.
From this booty, the coins have mostly been dated to the 17th and 18th centuries, though some also stretch back to the Jagiellonian and Teutonic eras. Most likely, these were lost over the centuries by worshippers and quite literally fell through the cracks.
Moreover, the historical team supervising the reconstruction found grisly human remains.
Archaeologist Dr. Anna Nierychlewska said: “There were three coffins in the crypt, one with the date 1807 inscribed on it.”
Marked out with studded rivets, this date was supplemented with the letter ‘M’ and a cross.
Described as one of the most valuable architectural monuments in the region, the church was destroyed after catching fire on August 31st, 2015.
Thought to have been started accidentally by an electrical fault, the fire quickly consumed the building despite the valiant efforts of local firefighters that had rushed to the scene.
Battling for nearly eight-hours to extinguish the flames, by the time they had the blaze under control much of the church had been completely destroyed.
Of the elements that were saved, rescued features included a stone baptismal font, a stoup, a bell dating from 1948, a charred figure of Christ from the middle of the 16th century and a figure of St. Stanislaus.
The first church on the site was thought to have been built in 1048; subsequently burned to the ground it was replaced by another in the 15th century which also suffered the same fiery fate.
Not to be defeated, the locals constructed another church in 1543 and it was this one that occupied the spot in question for the next four and a half centuries.
With World War One the church escaped widespread damage, recording only damage to its eastern wall in 1914. It fared less well during the next global conflict.
The parish priest, Father Maciejewski, was arrested during one of the first round-ups of the occupation and was later rearrested and deported in 1941. When he returned in 1945 to resume his duties he found the church in a much dilapidated state.
Closed by the Nazis in 1941, for the next few years it was used as a hospital by the Germans and its bells removed as part of the Third Reich’s war effort.
Parish books, chronicles and records were seized, and many – such as a Book of Miracles from 1665 – vanished entirely. Others were later recovered in the unlikeliest of places: for instance, a book recording baptisms, marriages and funerals was found in Gdańsk’s Oliwa district immediately after the war.
Famed for Baroque paintings of St. Valentine and St. Anna as well as its 17th century pulpit and eight-voice organ, these were all lost during the 2015 fire.
Despite the extent of the damage, a PLN 10 million reconstruction project has been undertaken with the aim of rebuilding the church as faithfully as possible.
Incorporating several beams that were saved from the last fire, parishioners have been told that the church should be completed by the end of next year.
Archaeologists earlier discovered around 50 burial spots containing the bodies of men and women aged between 30 and 40.
Tests showed that the majority suffered tooth decay and gum infections; one of the males also suffered from a degeneration of the spine and elbow.
The latest discovery of the crypt has prompted excitement among researchers and enabled them to piece more of the church’s history together.
The artefacts that have been discovered will be donated to local museums.