Gallery/Video: Does heart of Anne Boleyn lie buried in Erwarton church?
- Credit: Lucy Taylor
Her name divides opinion to this day.
She has been portrayed by actresses including Merle Oberon, Charlotte Rampling and Helena Bonham Carter.
Countless books, films, plays, television shows and even an opera have been written about her.
She continues to fascinate and intrigue.
Her name is Anne Boleyn.
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Born in the early 1500s, Anne was the daughter of a diplomat who had married into the top echelons of the English aristocracy.
Well educated and quick-witted, reputedly beautiful, she caught the wandering eye of her king, Henry VIII.
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After an intense love affair with Henry during which she refused to become his mistress, the King divorced his wife and married Anne in 1533.
She was crowned Queen but her time at the top was short-lived.
And in 1536, after failing to provide Henry with a son, she was executed on trumped up charges which included adultery, incest and witchcraft.
Anne Boleyn was beheaded - albeit by a Frenchman with a sword – on May 19, 1536.
But what happened next remains a mystery.
According to Historic Royal Palaces – the charity which looks after the Tower Of London – Anne is buried in the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula inside the tower itself.
According to historical sources her ladies wrapped Anne’s head and body and placed them in an elm chest which had once contained bow-staves.
The chest was then placed in a communal grave, with other execution victims, in the chapel under the chancel pavement.
But could her heart have been returned to a small Suffolk village? The scene of some of the happier times of her life?
Wendy Sadler, churchwarden at St Mary the Virgin, Erwarton, is confident that Anne’s heart was brought to the church after her death.
She said: “Anne’s aunt and uncle lived at Erwarton Hall and we know that to be a fact. We know she came here as a child and we have a memorial inscription in the church which mentions Anne Boleyn, Queen of England.
“When work was being done to the crypt in the 19th Century they found a casket which contained dust which was believed to be the heart of Anne Boleyn.”
Wendy said the church, despite being in a fairly remote location, often gets visitors who have heard the legend.
She said: “I am absolutely sure they bought her heart to this place. They used to take hearts out as a final request and I have every faith that the story is true.”
If true what does it mean to the parish church?
Wendy said: “It is a lovely thing for us to have and it encourages people to come to the church.”
The church’s rector – Rev Liesbeth Oosterhof – said she first heard the story when she came to the parish six years ago.
She said: “It is important to everyone here and I was told about the story of Anne Boleyn’s heart being here straight away. I am Dutch so I have had to learn about this part of English history and Anne Boleyn is an important part of the story of the reformation.”
Rev Oosterhof said she liked the idea that Anne would visit her family in the area as a place of refuge when she wanted to escape the stresses of life at the Tudor court.
June Pendle, treasurer on the parochial church council (PCC) and congregation member for more than 40 years, pointed out the mention of the Queen on one of the church’s memorial tables to her uncle Sir Philip Parker.
Val Mann, PCC secretary, said the crypt is inaccessible today.
She said: “There is a drawing of Anne and memorial to her on the organ which is above the crypt. It was in the middle of the 19th Century when they were having some work done that they discovered the casket. I am sure it is still down there to this day.”
Shotley resident Marion Farr has known the church at Erwarton for more than 50 years.
She said: “I first heard of the legend when I came to Shotley. I definitely think Anne’s heart is here. I think she wasn’t very well treated and I am sympathetic to her. I don’t think all the things that were said about her were true but she still divides opinion even today. We get a lot of visitors here that want to know where her heart is buried.”
The congregation rarely mention Anne in their regular worship but have, on occasion, placed a red rose on the altar in memory of her on the anniversary of her execution.
Aside from the connection with one of England’s Queens, the church is also home to medieval effigies of Sir Bartholomew Bacon and his wife Joan de Heveningham – the effigies were restored in the 1980s.
And this year, thanks to fundraising and a £73,000 grant from English Heritage, work will begin on repairing the church tower which had been in danger of crumbling.
June said: “The work is due to start in the spring and we are hoping it will be finished by the end of 2014.”
With the church’s annual spud bash planned for March 8 and an Everly Brothers tribute night planned for April 27 – fundraising events continue to ensure St Mary’s for future generations whether or not Anne’s heart is buried in the crypt.
Dorothy Snell, also a member of the PCC, said: “I am a little bit more sceptical. I have heard she would sail here from London to see her family and stay here and there does seem to be a lot of links to her in this part of Suffolk.
“I’d like to believe her heart is here.”
Perhaps we will never really know.
To find our more about the fundraising events at the church call Wendy Sadler on 01473 787101