Medieval Coffin of St John's – Chester, England - Atlas Obscura

Medieval Coffin of St John's

Church of St. John the Baptist

A rare wooden coffin set vertically into the Gothic arch of an ruined church.  


Just past the ancient Roman amphitheater outside the city walls of Chester, England, lies the half-ruined Church of St. John the Baptist.

The building is a mixture of Norman and early English Gothic architecture and is much smaller than it once was. A still-functioning Anglican church now sits nestled within great sandstone ruins that speak to its former size and glory. St. John’s is notable, too, in that it has a long history of falling down: Towers collapsed in 1468, 1572, 1574, and 1881.

In what remains of the church’s western tower, set high into one of the Gothic arches, is a wooden coffin. An account from the 19th century indicates that a church sexton discovered the coffin while digging a grave in a disused section of the cemetery. The rector ordered it placed high up on the wall, out of reach (but not of sight) of curious passersby. 

The coffin is odd in that it is carved entirely out of a block of oak. Its date is uncertain; signs in the churchyard claim it to be as old as the 11th century. The vivid inscription bearing the words “Dust to Dust” is more probably a Victorian rather than a medieval addition. 

Know Before You Go

The interior of the Parish Church has some fine examples of stained glass and Mento Mori memorials. It also contains a depiction of 'The Last Supper' by John Douglas, an apprentice of William Morris & Co. Not to mention a pillar with a 14th century painting of a saint.

There is also purported sightings of a ghostly hooded figure, either a nun or monk, who patrols the site in the evenings!


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January 29, 2018

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