Tomb raiders hit jackpot with archbishop's teeth

A London museum has put on display a priceless pair of false teeth found in the tomb of a rich archbishop who fled the French Revolution while in Rome the Vatican Museum is opening up graves from an ancient necropolis part of which once belonged to slaves of the notorious Roman Emperor Nero.

This is Local London reports that the two-hundred -year-old false teeth of a wealthy archbishop with a host of mistresses have been discovered on the site of London's new Channel Tunnel station at St Pancras.

The extraordinary set of dentures, labelled "priceless" by experts, is now on show at the Museum of London.

Even though the yellowy teeth are set in a bed of sickly purple "gums", two centuries ago the set would have cost as much as 105 - the price of a coach, annual fees for two children at the poshest of schools, or more than a year's wages for a housemaid.

Made of porcelain - a revolution in dental prosthetics at the time - the teeth were found fitting snugly in the skull of Arthur Richard Dillon, the archbishop of Narbonne.

Dillon was the highest ranking of around 8,000 clergy who escaped the guillotine during the French Revolution by fleeing the country.

"He was a very colourful and controversial character," said Paul Emery, the archaeologist who led the excavation. Although he was supposed to remain celibate as a Catholic clergyman, Dillon had "lots of mistresses", This is Local London says.

The French king Louis XVI knew him well, and once asked him how he managed to spend so much money. According to research by Museum of London specialist Natasha Powers, his expensive false teeth were a sign of his status, Powers wrote in the latest edition of the British Dental Journal.

They were "teeth for preaching, for public appearance." Nevertheless, "they were often difficult to eat with". At the dinner table people usually removed them with pride - a habit mocked by 18th century cartoonists.

The archbishop died at age 85 as part of the vibrant French emigre community in Somers Town - now better known as Euston and King's Cross just north of central London.

In another archaeological find, visitors to the Vatican Museum will now be able to view a 2,000-year-old pagan burial ground filled with mausoleums, scattered bones and headstones, including one that belonged to one of Nero's slaves, Bloomberg reports.

The Vatican announced its discovery almost four years ago after a truck was spotted hauling tombstones with Latin inscriptions on the construction site for a parking lot.

"It's not easy to dig with all the wonderful things that are underground," said Cardinal Francesco Marchisano, head of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology, told Bloomberg in an interview.

The 500 square metres of mostly pagan crypts will be opened to the public next week as part of the Vatican Museums' 500th anniversary. The necropolis is part of three other sections that in their entirety consist of about 1,000 square metres of graves.

One tomb contains about 30 family members. There's evidence the last interred was a Christian. In all, there are 500 to 600 people buried in about 40 tombs, containing layers of generations, tracing pagan Rome to the birth of Christianity, Francesco Buranelli, director of the museums, told Bloomberg.

The playboy bishop's priceless false teeth
Vatican Necropolis Gives Up Secrets After Escaping Construction (Bloomberg, 9/10/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Arthur Richard Dillon (Wikipedia)
Arthur-Richard Dillon (Catholic Encyclopaedia 1910)
Museum of London
Vatican Museum

Vatican museum wants Picasso (CathNews, 18/7/06)
Vatican Museum targets ticket touts (CathNews, 17/3/06)

10 Oct 2006