Workers find mysterious tomb in village church

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Reconstruction of an area rich with monuments near the village of Valeč in West Bohemia yielded a mystery that has archaeologists and anthropologists scratching their heads. When workers renovating the Church of the Holy Trinity belonging to the noble Štampach family lost a hammer through the floor, they discovered a hidden tomb and the oddly laid remains of an unknown woman. Earlier I spoke with the head of the archaeological team, Kateřina Postránecká, who described the scene:

“It was a tomb made of bricks, vaulted, and inside was a wooden coffin with the skeletal remains of a woman. It was quite a surprise for us, because we have no written records, no tombstone, no source to tell us who this unknown woman was.”

But there were also some rather bizarre circumstances surrounding the burial I believe.

“Yes, the position of the body for example. The tomb with the woman was in the west part of the church in a corridor, in the least sacred, utility part of the church. And the position of the body was west to east, but the face was turned to the west, so against the usual Christian burial habit. So that’s quite a mystery, as is the fact that we don’t know who the woman is.”

What do we know about this person buried in the tomb?

“We only know that she was an adult, between 30 and 50 years old when she died. She wasn’t poor, because she was dressed in embroidered clothes, embroidered with metal, maybe bronze. In her hands she held a bronze crucifix and around her left hand she had prayer beads with a metal locket. Judging by her style of clothing and the metal crucifix and locket we think that she was not an ordinary poor woman.”

As I understand it you are not even sure when she was buried, is that correct?

We don’t know yet. The church was built in 1728, and what we can say for sure is that the tomb was built after the church. Now we are waiting for the results of some special analyses, the most important of which is dendrochronological, because we were lucky to find some wood from the coffin and some wood from the tomb itself, and these results will be the most important for us.”

But what are some of the possible explanations for why she would be buried in this fashion?

The Church of the Holy Trinity in Valeč, photo: CTK
“Well, considering her clothing, she could have been a member of the family buried for whatever reason in this part of the church. Maybe she committed suicide, maybe she was ill, or maybe she wasn’t the legitimate daughter of the owner of the domain. So, there are several possible reasons.”

How else can you find out who she was and why she was buried in this way without any records?

“It will be very difficult; we may never know who this woman was. I don’t know, maybe it will be a mystery forever.”