Bones of Contention: Unruly Relics in a Secular Heritage Regime.
In 2012, archaeologists discovered the remains of King Richard III under a car park in Leicester. The furore around this discovery of his bones, their identification through genetic research, and their subsequent reburial in the Cathedral of Leicester changed the profile of the city and enhanced it as tourist destination. Impressed with this success story, the inhabitants of Bury St Edmund soon revelled in the rumour that the remains of Saint Edmund, to whose relics the medieval monastery of Bury St Edmunds was dedicated, might be buried under some derelict tennis courts in the ruins of the abbey. Lost to the world since the Dissolution, the bones have been subject to speculations about their whereabouts for centuries, but the fact is that for five centuries the location of the bones has been unknown.
As public interest in the rumoured location of the bones under the tennis courts demanded a response, the Anglican Cathedral and the local Council have joined forces and established the Heritage Partnership which was set up. Funded by English Heritage, the Heritage Partnership commissioned a Heritage Assessment and Conservation Plan. Assembling local knowledge and academic expertise, the Heritage Partnership has investigated the possibilities to enhance the conservation and interpretation of the ruins of St Edmundsbury Abbey. One of its unofficial, but persistent preoccupations has been to manage the expectations of the local population regarding the alleged location of the bones.
This research project examines how the Heritage Partnership manages the potentiality of the bones by subscribing to the secular procedures of a Weberian bureaucracy, whilst drawing upon the rumours of an alleged presence of the bones. It examines the imposition of a secular heritage regime for the management of the site, whilst confining the popular excitement about the possibility of finding the bodily remains. Theoretically, the project explores the possibility of the secular sacred, as the archaeological effervescence produced by local media transforms and commodifies a religious heritage into commercial possibilities.