Human remains found in Downpatrick - plan for St Patrick's cross put on hold
Plans to erect a replica St Patrick's Cross in Co Down yards from where the saint is buried have been postponed following the discovery of medieval human remains.
The intricately designed sculpture was supposed to be installed outside the 19th century cathedral in Downpatrick at a special event today, but the plans were put on hold after the car park became an excavation site.
The Dean Of Down, the Very Reverend Henry Hull, described how the discovery was made while contractors were laying the groundwork for the new installation.
"We had to have an archaeologist on hand," he said, "and we discovered a few medieval artefacts when digging the foundations.
"After a bit more digging, we found some more.
"But things got more interesting when we later discovered human skeletons (from what) are clearly burials.
"We knew that our plans had to be postponed."
The clergyman believes the remains may have lain undisturbed for more than 500 years.
"This was a monastery in the Middle Ages, so we presume that we have discovered the remains of Benedictine monks," he said.
Monks took up residence in the area in 1183 after making their way to what is now Co Down from Normandy.
Today, the cathedral is visited by around 60,000 international pilgrims every year.
The Dean said he had been happily surprised by people's reaction to the discovery, which was made on the same site where three parts of the original cross dating back to 800AD were found.
"I have been amazed at the response. It's not often that a dig like this takes place in the car park of a church and is so easily accessible to the public," Rev Hull added.
"But, of course, it is disappointing that our plans have been scuppered."
Today's event was meant to coincide with a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the cathedral's restoration and reconsecration.
Prior to the discovery, an archaeological dig had already been planned for the area, which has hosted churches and abbeys from as early as the 5th century.
But the find has generated significantly more interest in the excavation, which is scheduled to take place over the summer.
"People throughout the town have been telling their friends about the bodies which have been found at the Cathedral, and the Down County Museum has been involved in the excavation," Rev Hull explained.
"There is definitely a lot more interest in that now. Who knows what we'll find next?"