Archbishop's treasure found in river
By Paul Stokes
of valuable ecclesiastical treasures given to a
former Archbishop of Canterbury have been found
dumped in a river.
A bronze given to the Archbishop of Canterbury
by the Head of the Russian Orthodox Church,
which is one of the precious relics discovered
by diver Trevor Bankhead, who was diving in the
River Wear in Durham Photo: NORTH NEWS &
A haul of 32 artefacts, including gifts from
Pope Paul VI and a commemorative medallion
presented to the bishop for the Queen's
coronation in 1952, have been recovered from the
River Wear in Durham.
They had been in the possession of Michael
Ramsey, the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury, who
spent part of his retirement in the northern
city where he served as bishop.
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One theory is that he may have cast the items
into the water himself at various times, having
a reputation for eccentricity before his death
21 years ago at the age of 83.
Another suggestion is that they may have been
stolen before being discarded by thieves for
some reason as they crossed Prebends Bridge.
However, there is no record of the house where
Ramsey and his wife Joan lived on South Bailey
having been burgled.
The objects, some solid gold, have been
discovered by amateur divers Trevor Bankhead,
40, and his brother Gary, 44, a fire service
watch officer, over the past two and a half
They conducted 300 dives and believe there are
no objects left on the river bed after their
last find on Sunday.
It is their belief belief the items could have
been put into the water deliberately as a “gift”
to the city by Lord Ramsey.
Trevor Bankhead, a former soldier, said: “We
believe the Archbishop threw them into the river
in 1983 or 1984, by which time he would have had
“So we chose places which were easily accessible
by the water’s edge and threw silver washers in
the river to try and trace the trajectory the
objects could have taken.”
The dives were carried out under licence from
Durham Cathedral which owns both banks of the
stretch of river.
Mr Bankhead added: “It’s been very exciting, not
just finding the objects, but also researching
them and being able to pin down the time when he
would have received them.”
Their first find was an ornate silver trowel
presented to the Archbishop for laying the
foundation stone of an Indian church in 1961.
The brothers have since retrieved over 30 other
items linked to Ramsey, along with hundreds of
medieval and Saxon artefacts.
Among them are gold, silver and bronze medals
struck to commemorate the second Vatican
council, which must have been presented to
Ramsey, who was the most senior cleric in the
Church of England from 1961 to 1974, when he met
Pope Paul VI at the Vatican in 1966.
It was during the same visit the Pope gave
Ramsey his episcopal ring which the Archbishop
wore until the day he died and is now kept at
Other items discovered include a solid silver
coin from the Greek Orthodox Church and a solid
gold coin, likely to have been presented when
Ramsey met Nikkyo Niwano, president of the
Japanese Buddhist movement, in 1973.
Anne Heywood, chapter steward at Durham
Cathedral, described the notion that Lord Ramsey
may have been responsible as “pure speculation”.
She said: “We don't know whether he might have
had a burglary. Somebody might have thought
these were worth something, and discovered when
they were running across Prebends Bridge that
they weren’t, and just threw them in the river -
but again that is just pure speculation.”
Mark McIntosh, professor of divinity at Durham
University, who was a student of Lord Ramsey,
said the former Archbishop's health declined in
his later years.
He said: "My hunch would be that he would have
had very little knowledge of where most of his
things were at that point in his life as he was
growing feebler by the day."
The value of the items has still to be
established, with estimates up to £10,000, and
will be split between the cathedral and the
It is hoped some will eventually go on display
at Durham’s 11th Century cathedral.