Bizarre news: old graveyard dug up on Church property

Bizarre news: old graveyard dug up on Church property

An old lot once owned by the Archdiocese of Boston but now sold to a charter school was found to have an old cemetery with hundreds of unmarked graves. A team of archeologists hired by the archdiocese are digging up the graves and carting off the bones.

I’m curious. How old does it have to be before it’s no longer desecration of a grave, but is now a scientific dig? I’m not being sarcastic, I really want to know.

A team of scientists hired by the archdiocese said yesterday they had already unearthed 100 unmarked graves - some containing the remains of as many as eight people whose coffins apparently had been stacked on top of one another - and expected to find as many as 200 more behind the nearby Roxbury Charter High School on Hulbert Street. The archaeologists said they had also discovered at least one mass grave containing remains that appeared to have been dug up and reburied together. The grim work has disturbed neighbors who are concerned about the handling of the dead in what had appeared for years to be nothing more than a vacant lot.

... The archdiocese demolished St. Joseph’s Church in 2004 because the building was deteriorating, put the property up for sale and hired Public Archaeology Lab of Pawtuckett, R.I., in December, said Terrence C. Donilon, an archdiocesan spokesman.

According to the story, the land was used as a cemetery from 1850 to 1868, but little else is known except that in the late 1800s, the archdiocese hired a funeral home to exhume the bodies and move them to a cemetery in nearby Roslindale. Evidently that wasn’t done or wasn’t done completely. No one seems to know why the move was mandated in the first place.

In the meantime, the archdiocese will pay to rebury the dead in another cemetery and have a marker put up.

“We’re trying to do the right thing here,” Donilon said. “In some ways, we’re preserving the remains in a much more dignified way than they’ve been kept in all these years.” He could not say whether the archdiocese will attempt to identify the remains.

Of course, for those who have nothing but criticism for the archdiocese will find a way to make this out to be the “big, bad Church” once again. Maybe Voice of the Faithful or the Council of Parishes will issue a press release deploring more parishioners being evicted from a closed parish or something.

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  • Well, as I pointed out, and as the story says, the Church contracted with a funeral home to move the bodies back in the late 1800s. It’s apparent to me that all these years the Church thought the bodies were in the cemetery in Roslindale.

    I wonder, should the state identify the remains of Indians (i.e. natives) found in a mass grave? The only reason for the state to get involved is if there’s a potential crime. Since all these people died in the 19th century and anyone responsible for any possible crime is long dead to, what would be the point?

  • I have a hunch that an archaeologist can tell the difference between a recently buried body and one buried 150 years ago. It’s sort of what they do.

    Why is it whenever the Church is involved we must be suspicious and presume that something nefarious is going on?

  • Back in college, I worked on a dig in Marocco, at the site of a 16th century Portuguese church. We had a few spots in the graveyard that we dug up an examined. At time it was very interesting but I remember feeling bad about disturbing the graves. I still do, and I am not certain these remains were ever properly reinterred.