MALA GPR data unveils the unusual burial rituals of Cistercian monks

“Thanks to this remarkable modern technology and research, we now know fascinating and hitherto unknown details of the life of the monastic community which we can share with our visitors.” – Mark Newman of the University of Bradford



More than 500 graves of Cistercian monks and lay brothers have been discovered at one of the largest monastic ruins in the UK.  GPR-data from the MALA GroundExplorer and MALA MIRA reveals unusual details about the burial rituals of Cistercian monks.

The discoveries were made at Fountains Abbey, which existed from the early 12th century until its closure in 1539. The National Trust, which looks after the site, has been working for more than two years on the project with experts from the University of Bradford, and Geoscan Research. MALA GPR-data has unveiled not only the location of the cemetery but also the formation of the graves which suggest that the monastic community believed in literal or corporeal resurrection.

Analysis of radar images show a “bunk bed” formation with bodies separated by stone partitions within the same grave. This, together with regular organisation of the graves sited well away from each other, indicates the importance given to keeping the remains separate from later burials. The data shows up to four burials in each grave cut, suggesting there could be up to 2,000 bodies.

“The results at Fountains are little short of remarkable. Archaeologically they are among the most complete graveyards uncovered using geophysical techniques…As a general rule, burials are difficult to detect by geophysical means, so revealing the whole layout of a cemetery, in the way that we have, is exceptionally unusual.” – Chris Gaffney, of the University of Bradford


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