In York, a Mystery: Why 37 Headless Bodies?

Sandwiches, crumpets and tea at Betty's, York England.
Sandwiches, crumpets and tea at Betty's, York England.

The city of York is a magnet for both British tourists and travelers from around the world. It’s just about as pretty as everyone said it was; encircled by a Roman-built wall and dominated by the massive York Minster, an oversized cathedral. Guide Mark Graham told us that archeologists have recently made a discovery that had everyone scratching their heads.

Outside of town, a Roman-era burial ground was excavated and 37 bodies were taken out and checked for DNA. The bodies were all decapitated, heads sitting in their laps.  The speculation is that they were gladiators, since some of the bodies had tiger bite marks on them.

The city was founded in the year 721 when Romans came here to York and called the place Ebor. “York is the fulcrum of Yorkshire,” Graham said. “It’s where everybody shows up.”  He cited the ignonomous Guy Faulkes, (who tried to bomb the parliament) as a Yorkshire man, and told us about an early contemporary of Cromwell who invaded a nearby town without sacking it and killing everyone. This was progress back then, and made him an enemy of Cromwell’s.

There is Viking history here, too, and a railroad museum…the city sees more than seven million tourist visitors a year. We toured the remains of St. Mary’s Abbey…now just part of it stands. It was destroyed by townspeople who resented the fat, well-fed monks who lived there.

While this gigantic Minster draws oodles of tourists, the city is a fun place to walk around, and down one street I found a shop filled with all sizes and shapes of swords. “These are safe to ship if we pack them,” said a sign.  Yorkshire Tea is strong and a definite favorite. Our guides speak of that distinctive Yorkshire accent, which I don’t pick up. We’ll go out on the River Ouse this afternoon and see more of the city from the water.

A York embrace
A couple near the York Minster Cathedral.