Archaeology at Discover DeCrypt

Archaeologists were on site for a week-long dig in the schoolroom. This was a great experience in itself, but also a big moment for the project, as removal of the old floor and excavation in preparation for underfloor heating to be installed was the first step in the building process. We had an overwhelming response from volunteers eager and willing to spend a week covered in dirt in a very cold building. Kevin and Nick from Avon Archaeology led the dig and took the time to educate the volunteers in archaeological ideas from stratigraphy to using surveying instruments between pushing wheelbarrows to the skip.

The many small finds included medieval coins; floor tiles; clay pipes; shells; pottery sherds (even two Roman ones) and bone fragments. Some finds are a very clear reminder of the use of the room as a schoolroom: writing slates and styli; marbles and a toy cannon. Click here for a full report of the dig.

The Roman Stones

In 2018, during excavations in Southgate Street adjacent to the west wall of the church, two large pieces of worked stone were discovered approximately six feet below ground level.

The first piece is identified as part of a cornice from a major building in Roman Gloucester. It is made of Painswick stone, a very high quality white limestone from the Cotsowlds which, when fresh, can produce sculpture of marble-like quality.  It is decorated with curling leaf, bud and possibly flowers of excellent workmanship. It dates most probably from the late 1st or early 2nd century.

The second stone is part of the upper portion of an altar, also of Painswick stone. The back of the altar is roughly finished, suggesting it stood against a wall. The front part is broken off but on the right side a series of mouldings can still be seen.



The cornice (above) and altar fragment (below) during examination by Avon Archaeology.

The site where this stonework was found is  more or less on the site of the  civic centre of Gloucester, the Forum and Basilica,  constructed soon after the Colonia was founded by the emperor Nerva at the very end of the 1st century.

The Basilica and Forum served as both the administrative and religious centre for a Roman city. In a major Colonia such as Glevum there would have been a Capitolium, a temple dedicated to Iupiter Optimus Maximus, either within the forum area or adjacent to it, and although the cornice might have ornamented the basilica it might equally well have come from such a temple. It is likely that the very well cut (and presumably inscribed) altar came either from such a temple or perhaps the aedes, the shrine within the basilica, which also housed the city council (curia) and the law courts.

Together with the  slight  remains of the life size bronze equestrian statue, most probably of Nerva,  which stood in the Forum, these new finds from St Mary de Crypt are pointers to the importance and former magnificence of  the major buildings of the Colonia.

After their discovery, the stones were taken to Bristol for inspection by Avon Archaeology. Much of the information here comes from the report commissioned from experts Martin Henig and Kevin Hayward.  The stones were then conserved by Elliot Ryder Conservation in 2020/21. They are currently in storage at Gloucester Museum until a display area is prepared for them at Discover DeCrypt.

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