Site Codes: CH86, CH92
Grid reference of the site: SU 874 053

St. James and St. Mary Magdalene, Chichester, was excavated in 1986 and 1992 by Chichester District Archaeological Unit. The leprosarium was founded circa 1118 AD to care for eight leper brethren. It was used as a leprosarium until at least 1418, the date of the last documentary reference to lepers as inmates. The hospital was re-founded as an alms house, which went out of use c.1650 AD. The skeletal population from Chichester displays a wide range of pathologies, including a high percentage of cases of leprosy.

Chichester 273

Age: Young Middle Adult (26 - 35 years)
Sex: Male
Burial position: supine and extended, west-east aligned.

Pathology: Healed, coarse new bone formation is present on the distal tibiae and fibulae. The tarsals and metatarsals of this individual also show evidence of remodelling, including navicular compression, dorsal tarsal bars, remodelling of some metatarsals and destruction of the third left metacarpo-phalangeal joint. Overall, these lesions are consistent with a diagnosis of leprosy.

In addition, there are multiple porous lesions (1-2mm diameter) present on many bones across the skeleton, including the mandible, frontal, sphenoid, scapulae, vertebrae, ribs, ossa coxae and left proximal tibia. Areas of disorganised fibre bone are present on the ascending ramus of the mandible, scapulae, ribs, ossa coxae and proximal femora. These are often associated with the multifocal lytic lesions. These lesions are likely due to a metastatic carcinoma; however, it is very difficult to determine the location of the primary (soft tissue) tumour.

Chichester 273 left scapula
Image 1:
Left scapula (anterior view) showing fibrous bone formation around the glenoid fossa.

Chichester 273 cranium
Image 2:
Left side of cranium (maxilla, zygomatic, sphenoid and temporal bones visible). There is an area of porosity on the greater wing of the sphenoid and an apical granuloma above the third molar. Moderate levels of dental wear are also visible.

Chichester 273 ossa coxae radiograph
Image 3:
Radiograph of the ossa coxae. There are multiple porous lesions on the ossa coxae. This radiograph shows that they do not have a sclerotic margin, a characteristic feature of neoplastic lesions.

References: Ortner, D.J., Manchester, K.M., and Lee, F. 1991. Metastatic carcinoma in a leper skeleton from a medieval cemetery at Chichester, England. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 1: 91-98.

Magilton, J., F. Lee & A. Boylston (ed.) 2008. 'Lepers at the gate'. Excavations at the cemetery of the hospital of St James and St Mary Magdalene, Chichester, 1986-93. York: Council for British Archaeology.

Last Updated:01 May 2012