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Mysterious plaited hairpiece found in 1,000-year-old coffin,it may have belonged to Medieval saint

Ian Harvey

After it was first discovered some 175 years ago by local grave diggers, the clump of braided hair has baffled experts who tirelessly strived for its origins. A number of studies and theories have since been surfacing the academic circles trying to explain the peculiar nature of this creepy piece of hair. Reaching a consensus about the ownership of the hair has never been possible; however experts are inclined to believe that it belonged to Saint Morwenna. Now some experts are looking at it in a different light, unpacking the ‘fashion’ sense of Anglo-Saxons who supposedly wore exotic hair.

The tests have revealed that the colour used on the hair came from a mixture of pine resin, which may have been a very common ingredient in hair treatment. The hair has been dated back to the era between 895AD to 1123AD.

A braided head of hair found buried beneath a medieval abbey in England.Source Jemie Cameron

A braided head of hair found buried beneath a medieval abbey in England.Source Jemie Cameron

Kept safely in a case at Romsey Abbey in Hampshire, the lump of hair has been a focus for a number of archaeologists and scientists for a long time now. In 1839, a group of gravediggers discovered the p`lait with a wooden pillow and skin attached to it and surprisingly didn’t think of it much. According to one of the gravediggers involved in the unearthing, Mr J Major said that they were instructed to investigate the lead coffin for any human bones and remains.


The west window of Romsey Abbey.

The west window of Romsey Abbey..Source

Writing about the discovery, Mr Major provided the detailed enough account of the opening of the coffin. He wrote that it was not possible for them to completely open the coffin, however the gravediggers managed to break open a big enough hole, Major put one hand through to check for human remains. When Mr Major inserted his hand to take out human bones, he instead found ‘no bones but a scalp of feamial (female) hair’. He added that the colour of the hair was extremely bright, brighter than any female hair he had ever seen.

However upon further inspection gravediggers found only one finger bone, which turned to dust immediately after it was tempered with, since none of them was an expert archaeologist and didn’t have the expertise to deal with such findings.

Experts believed the body and the mysterious hair belonged to a wealthy individual from the Anglo Saxon era, since the whole coffin was decorated with lead unlike a commoner’s coffin, however there have always been a varying number of theories regarding the coffin and the hair.


The vicar of Romsey’s Abbey, Reverend Canon Tim Sledge told the reporters that he believes the coffin belongs to either of two previous saints namely St Morwenna and St Ethelflaeda. Saint Morwenna was the first abbess at the abbey, and Saint Ethelflaeda is the patron saint of Romsey’s abbey.