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The reconstructed face of a medieval priest from Lincoln 1

a photo of man with short hair and blue eyes rt hair and

Lincoln Cathedral Priest Forensic Facial Reconstruction. Copyright Hew Morrison 2020.

The latest face to emerge from the distant past is a medieval priest from Lincoln

Most experts agree that historical facial reconstruction techniques do not create exact likenesses, but rather a close representative image of a particular person – who could be recognised by those who knew them.

Most of these people are long gone and, with the absence of DNA testing, this leaves the various possibilities of skin tone, eye colour, hair colour and even hairstyles in the hands of the forensic expert recreating them.

The latest fascinating recreation in this field comes courtesy of Lincoln Cathedral and the remains of a medieval priest excavated by Lincoln-based Allen Archaeology Ltd during an ongoing dig to enable new developments and landscaping around the cathedral, in the area that is now the building’s West Parvis site.

Analysis of the skeleton confirms that the medieval priest was male, approximately 169cm tall (around five and half feet) and died between the ages of 35 and 45 years old, but was most likely in his late 30s.

Associated grave goods interred with him – a pewter chalice and paten, which are used during Communion and are key symbols of the work of a priest – were plain in style, with similar examples dated back to as far as the 12th and 13th centuries.

His recreation, which looks rather like a real-life modern-day photograph, was made by Inverness-based forensic artist Hew Morrison, who used Allen Archaeology’s findings and photographs of the skull to build up a reconstruction of the priest’s face.

Without the availability of DNA testing, the recreated priest’s hair and eye colour may be conjectural, but the features of his skull – his close-set eyes and slightly asymmetrical chin – plus his estimated age at the time of death, are factual and form the basis for the convincing facial reconstruction.

Several interesting and unusual traits were found on the rest of the priest’s body. There was little sign in the skeleton that he had suffered from any disease or injury during his life, with the exception of a small lump resulting from deep tissue bruising and small deposits of mineralised dental plaque.

Hypoplasia (underdevelopment of tissue) which was seen in a neck vertebra, may have been associated with asymmetry of the blood vessels, but whilst this has been shown to increase predisposition to certain types of stroke, it is not possible to conclude that the priest had any associated symptoms.

The degeneration of the discs of his lower spine show that the priest was involved in some level of physical activity and are changes that would be expected to have occurred with age. His remains suggest that he was apparently well nourished and had a relatively risk-free lifestyle.

During the priest’s excavation, a host of other fascinating historic artefacts were unearthed which are currently being studied and dated. It is planned that some will be displayed as part of the new Lincoln Cathedral visitor centre, which is currently under construction and due to be completed later this year.

“This burial is just one of the fascinating discoveries that our team has made during the Cathedral Connected project,” adds Natasha Powers, Senior manager at Allen Archaeology. “We have revealed new evidence of Roman, Saxon, medieval, Tudor and Victorian activity within the site, and full analysis of the 50 or so burials that have been unearthed will provide us with a window into understanding the lives of the medieval population of Lincoln.”

The area between the West Front of the cathedral and the neighbouring Exchequergate Arch is known to have been used as a burial ground for not only the cathedral but the church of St Mary Magdalene, in nearby Bailgate. Part of the area of the Dean’s Green was also used as a burial ground for the cathedral, as were the many green spaces surrounding it.

The Connected project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, includes the delivery of vital restoration and renovation works to the iconic Lincoln Cathedral which are due to complete in 2022. The works will provide new spaces, including a new visitor centre, and are designed to help protect and safeguard the cathedral for generations to come.


Lincoln Cathedral

Lincoln, Lincolnshire

Lincoln Cathedral is one of the finest medieval buildings in Europe, which towers above Lincoln, a prominent landmark for miles around. The imposing West Front incorporates the surviving part of the first Romanesque Cathedral dating from 1072. Most of the Cathedral dates from the 13th century when, inspired by the…

One comment on “The reconstructed face of a medieval priest from Lincoln

  1. John C. Reddick on

    I am surprised at the stunning inaccuracy of the hair. Surely the artists doing the reconstruction realized that hairstyles from even a few decades back are strikingly different from those of the current year. Asymmetrical hairstyles are scarcely found before the nineteenth century; the hairs (which would probably have been generally longer and much fuller on the sides) would probably have radiated outward from a central point on the crown—no medieval barber would have swept the bangs to the side like that, nor tapered the hair to points in front of the ears.Most importantly, a cleric would have been TONSURED, i. e., had his hair shaven into a circular ring above the ears with a larger-or-smaller bald spot in the crown of the head (this supposedly represented Christ’s crown of thorns). Where such incredible skill is shown in the reconstruction even these minor faults appear glaring, and the more so because in this age of the internet, primary sources for such details are available with the pressing of a few buttons. Ah, well—“aliquando bonus dormitat Homerus.”


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