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Medieval tombstones found in walls of burnt church

A fire which destroyed a church 12 years ago exposed 100 medieval tombstones which were hidden in the walls.

The grave covers known as cross slabs are decorated with swords, crosses and emblems including a pair of shears to signify a housewife, and are related to figures in the history of the village.

Many had been hidden high above ground near the church roof and a popular theory is that a former Bishop of Durham, John Cosin, had secreted them there 450 years ago.

Jim Merrington, of the Brancepeth History and Archive Group, explained: “After the roof burned off we discovered a ring of cross slabs high up around the perimeter of the clerestory which was built in 1638 by Rector John Cosin, who later became Bishop of Durham. All were neatly placed facing skywards. It is possible that Cosin had them gathered up from the churchyard and secreted them away on the very top course of the building safe from vandals and reformists. It was obviously quite a task to get them up there for no real structural purpose.”

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