• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3
Mystery of medieval child grave in Frankfurt
The Frankfurt cathedral at the heart of the old city hides many of its ancient secrets. Photo: "Frankfurter Dom Eiserner Steg" by rupp.de via Wikimedia Commons

Mystery of medieval child grave in Frankfurt

Tom Barfield · 15 Sep 2015, 12:53

Published: 15 Sep 2015 12:53 GMT+02:00

The 1992 find of a double grave during excavations at the Bartholomaeuskirche – generally known as the Frankfurt cathedral – wowed historians.

Two children around four years old, one dressed and bejewelled in the style of Merovingian nobility – the kings who ruled the Franks (Germanic tribes) of western Europe in the early Middle Ages – and one cremated in a bearskin according to Scandinavian custom, were found buried in a single coffin under the cathedral.

Twenty years later, archaeologists have released the results of their scientific investigation of the remains and the grave site.

It shows that the pair were buried some time between 700 and 730 AD in a priest's residence near what was then a tiny church.

And it seems that the grave was honoured by the people there for over a century, as the palace chapel built by King Louis II in 855 was exactly aligned with the grave - and passed on its alignment to the later cathedral.

A map of the grave site (red square) on a floor plan of the Frankfurt Cathedral. The small building where the children were buried is marked in dark red. Image: Archäologisches Museum Frankfurt

"We don't know exactly why they were honoured, that's the real question," Professor Egon Wamers, director of the Frankfurt Archaeological Museum, told The Local.

"One can assume they played a significant role in this aristocratic class in Frankfurt...we know of a number of these 'Adelsheiligen' [noble saints] in the early Middle Ages. Educated, high-class people had easier access to saintly status."

Fine clothing found on the girl's body, including a tunic and shawl, and jewellery made of gold, silver, bronze and precious stones – including ear and finger rings, armbands, a necklace and brooches – are clear indicators of her high status.

Meanwhile, the cremated child's remains, mixed with the bones of a bear, and the girl's necklace copying a Scandinavian amulet, are further evidence of the close connection between Germanic tribes and northern Europe that had developed over the previous century.

An artist's impression of how the girl found buried under the cathedral might have looked. Image: Archäologisches Museum Frankfurt

The combination of pagan and Christian elements in the burial is a reminder of the slow spread of Christianity into Germany.

Just a few years later, in a letter written in 738 AD, Pope Gregory III complained about the pagan practices of the Hesse and Thuringian tribes.

"These could have been two children from totally different cultural traditions who were promised to one another in marriage," Wamers said – although he was clear that historians have little beyond speculation to go on.

Strategic location

Frankfurt -. then known as Franconofurd – "had already been held by the Romans and others as a strategically valuable location" before the Merovingian kings of the Franks, Wamers explained.

Located on a hill and at the meeting of important north-south and east-west trade routes, Franconofurd was the capital of a tax-collecting district, a bridgehead for the Franks' eastward expansion, and a site where the itinerant kings of the Franks would set up their court when they travelled through the area.

"It was constantly being built over or rebuilt. There were high-quality stone buildings, a church, a large administrative structure, and outlying farms and fishing villages," Wamers said.

"By 794 AD, when Charlemagne held his Great Synod here, it was well enough fitted out for his entire court."

But the two children were the first human remains ever to be found from the settlement before that well-documented event, and details about life in Franconofurd remain mostly shrouded in mystery.

Story continues below…

More questions than answers

Frankfurt archaeologists haven't given up on trying to find out more about the early medieval history of the city – although currently most of what is known about the period comes from later records about transfers of land and other property, which include scraps of historical information.

"We've been hoping for a long time for finds made of precious metals from the ninth and 10th Century," Wamers explains.

"We have very few high-value finds, like Carolingian swords or graves of men, almost nothing in Frankfurt made of metal that could give us more information about what was going on here."

Even now, plans are afoot to begin new digs around the cathedral complex where the royal palace once stood.

"We'll see what we manage to find," Wamers said. "Just in the last two years we've found more palace walls, also from this period in the sixth or seventh centuries."

Lurking in the new dig sites could be more clues to the history of Frankfurt – but it's unlikely we'll ever know just what became of the two saintly children who lay under the cathedral for so long.

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Tom Barfield (tom.barfield@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Teacher overpaid quarter of a million euros. No one notices
Photo: DPA

The Düsseldorf teacher was paid a full-time salary for six years, despite only working part time.

Euro 2016
Germans react with glee to England’s Iceland humiliation
Distraught England players after Iceland defeat. photo: DPA

Still upset by their British brothers voting for Brexit, Germans expressed an overwhelming sense of Schadenfreude at England's Euro 2016 exit.

Cleaning spray triggers shock explosion in Frankfurt cafe
Photo: Frankfurt fire department.

Four people have been injured in an explosion at a cafe in a Frankfurt shopping district. The culprit: cleaning products.

Brexit vote
Merkel vows to create 'new impulse' for EU
Chancellor Angela Merkel with French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Berlin. Photo: DPA.

The leaders of Germany, France and Italy vowed on Monday "a new impulse" for the EU as it reels from Brexit.

Police investigate after 'Nazi knifeman' threatens President
Demonstrators protest against the visit of President Joachim Gauck. Photo: DPA.

German President Joachim Gauck was confronted by some aggressive right-wing extremists during an official weekend visit, including one man carrying a knife.

Telekom warns all users to change passwords after scam
Photo: DPA.

German giant Deutsche Telekom is warning customers to change their passwords after finding that up to 120,000 customers' data was being sold on the black market.

Brexit vote
How Brits can escape to Germany and still feel at home
The store Broken English in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Giving up on the UK post-Brexit? Come to Germany - it's not so different!

German MPs file war crimes suit against Erdogan
Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo: DPA

A group of German politicians and public figures have filed a lawsuit against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accusing him of committing war crimes against his country's Kurdish minority.

Brexit vote
Merkel: no backroom deals with UK on Brexit
Angela Merkel. Photo: DPA

Chancellor Angela Merkel ruled out on Monday informal talks with the UK on the terms of a Brexit, but said the EU should be patient with London.

Sartorial slip-up leads police to pipe bomb
A sign reading FCK CPS. Photo: Jürgen Telkmann / Flickr Creative Commons.

Police stopped a man because he was wearing a FCK CPS shirt, only to discover he had been making a pipe bomb.

Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
National
How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Technology
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
International
'Germany needs to make UK come to its senses'
Sponsored Article
Education abroad: How to find an international school
Features
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Sponsored Article
Health insurance for expats in Germany: a quick guide
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
Features
How two gay dads cut through German red tape to start a family
National
Five things to know about guns in Germany
Sponsored Article
US expats: Taxes are due June 15th
Culture
10 things you need to know before attending a German wedding
National
Eight weird habits you'll pick up living in Germany
Lifestyle
Six reasons 'super-cool' Berlin isn't all it's cracked up to be
Society
Only one country likes getting naked on the beach more than Germany
Lifestyle
23 ridiculously fascinating things you never knew about Berlin
Culture
8 German words that perfectly sum up your 20s
Sport
How to sound like an expert on German football this summer
Lifestyle
Can't make it past the door at Berlin's most famous club? Help is at hand
Business & Money
Why Frankfurt could steal London's crown as Europe's finance capital
Features
6 surprising things I learned about Germany while editing The Local
Culture
Five sure-fire ways to impress Germans with your manners
Features
6 reasons Germany's summer is unbeatable for thrill-seekers
National
The future belongs to these 10 German regions
Society
How pictures of footballers on chocolates made Pegida really mad
Health
New father's tragic herpes warning touches 1000s online
7,830
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd