Speed Reads

an ancient mystery solved

Archaeologists finally crack the code on medieval mystery grave

The bodies of two medieval children have revealed secrets about the very foundations of early Europe — and they could even be linked to Emperor Charlemagne, the first leader of the Holy Roman Empire. Deutsche Welle reports that the children's bodies, first discovered in Frankfurt's St. Bartholomäus Cathedral in 1992, represent a pivotal point in the transition from a pagan Europe to a Christian one.

While the grave was long thought to belong to a single child, researchers have found that it in fact held two: The first body, a girl's, was discovered covered in jewels, while the other body was cremated. The girl is now thought to have been buried in 730 in the central axis of the cathedral, and was likely celebrated by the region's worshippers for centuries after her death. The ashes of the second child, who scientists guess was around four, was found with bear claws and animal bones, which indicate Scandinavian pagan traditions. The girl similarly wore jewelry linking her to Northern Europe. However, a gold-trimmed cross on the children's shroud tells scientists that their burial was Christian — a mark of the religious crossroads the lower Rhine River region found itself in at the time.

Researchers additionally speculate that the girl might have belonged to the Hedenen family, an influential noble clan from which Charlemagne selected his fourth wife, Fastrada. At least there is one connection to the emperor that is certain: St. Bartholomäus Cathedral was where Charlemagne launched the Council of Frankfurt and began the 844-year reign of the Holy Roman Empire.