TWELVE skeletons have been found under the car park at a Bicester church.
The bones were found by builders who are midway through constructing the John Paul II Centre in the grounds of the Church of the Immaculate Conception, in the Causeway.
Archaeologists have exhumed the remains and believe the skeletons date from late Anglo-Saxon times, between 700 and 950 AD.
The car park is believed to cover part of a Saxon church site, dating from between 410 and 1066AD.
Experts believe the church itself was on or near the site of the current St Edburg’s Church in Church Street, with its cemetery to the west.
Matthew Smith, senior archaeological consultant with heritage advisers CGMS: “The excavations offer an excellent opportunity to greater understand the people of Bicester in Saxon times.”
He said early indications showed the bodies were buried according to Christian tradition of the time, facing east, but the remains were still being fully analysed.
Mr Smith said: “The new community centre is being constructed in an area, which in Saxon times, was a focus of religious faith.
“The Saxon people of Bicester, who were interred in the cemetery, would have had a distinct sense of local community.”
Archaeologists hope to find out more details about those who were buried, including the kind of food they ate and when they died.
Once the investigations are complete, the remains will be returned to the church and buried in its new memorial garden.
Meanwhile, the new community centre, part of a £1.5m project to build a hall and memorial garden at the church, is taking shape. The hall, which is due to open in August, will have a host of green features, including triple-glazed windows.
Instead of traditional heating, there will be a hi-tec air pump cooling/heating system similar to an air conditioner.
The church funded the project by a mixture of selling off some building, on-going fundraising and its own savings.
P3Eco, the consortium behind the North West Bicester eco town, agreed to construct the centre at cost price.
It will be only the second non-residential building in the UK to be built to the highest eco standard.
Father Paul Martin said the two-storey hall would hold up to 250 people.
He said “It will provide a much-needed facility for all of Bicester, and the church is pleased to be at the forefront of provision of such community facilities.”
Ian Inshaw, chairman of P3 Eco Bicester, said: “For the residents of Bicester this is the first visible evidence of the advantages that the NW Bicester eco development will bring to the town.”