Monday, October 16, 2006

News from downunda

Ned Kelly's bishop's tomb found under Cathedral pews –

In what has been described as a once in a lifetime find, the graves of Perth's first two Catholic bishops, including Bishop Matthew Gibney, who administered the last rites to hanged bushranger, Ned Kelly, have been re-discovered by archaeologists - under the pews of Perth's cathedral.

The West Australian reports that generations of worshippers at the St Mary's Cathedral have prayed within the church's stone walls, totally unaware that two Church leaders were buried just beneath their feet.

At the heart of the mystery was the final resting place of bishops Griver and Gibney. Bishop Gibney had earlier become a celebrity after he famously tended to the grievously injured Ned Kelly and administered the Last Rites while travelling in Victoria.

During restoration work at the cathedral, the plaster-lined crypt was finally located by chance in the earthy soil just metres underneath the cathedral's centre aisle.

The only clues were four small crosses carved into the church's wooden floorboards, which were hidden under the legs of the pews, marking out the four boundaries of the small crypt.

Project archaeologist Fr Robert Cross said early church records showed the two bishops were interred in the cathedral after their deaths in 1886 and 1925.

Further records from 1943 suggested the tombs had been moved to a newer section of St Mary's, but did not provide the exact location.

The puzzle began to take shape about three years ago when archdiocese archivist Sr Frances Stibi discovered one of the crosses carved into the floor near the altar.

But the fate of the crypt remained unresolved until six weeks ago when the pews were removed for restoration work, and the three other crosses were revealed.

Archaeologists with the help of students from the University of Western Australia used a metal rod to probe under the floorboards until they discovered a metal cap covering a small, brick and plaster crypt containing two coffins. Sand and building rubble coating the coffins still held footprints left by workers who covered the graves almost 80 years ago.

Decorative plates fixed to the lids identified them as the missing graves of bishops Griver and Gibney but it was only after three weeks of careful excavation that the coffins could be removed.

"It is not unusual for things not to be marked in these situations because in the early days there was the issue of grave robbers, though I do not think that was the case here," Fr Robert said.

"As to what is under there, it is pure speculation." Further efforts to find what lay there would be made. Bishop Gibney's coffin had been badly damaged by white ants but Bishop Griver's coffin, still wrapped in lanolin imbued wool, was tightly sealed and in good condition.

With assistance from the University, Fr Robert said he hoped to insert a small fibre-optic camera into the sealed coffin so its contents could be investigated. "We found a viewing window in the lid of Bishop Gibney's coffin and cleaned it with some water, and through it we could just see his skeleton and top of his vestments," Fr Robert told the West Australian.

Photo: Young Fr Matthew Gibney

SOURCE: Cathedral reveals the secret of its lost bishops (West Australian, 14/10/06)


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