Has Shakespeare's Grave Ever Been Disturbed?

After his death in 1616, William Shakespeare was buried in the chancel of the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. Intriguingly, the inscription on the stone slab over the grave doesn't mention the Bard by name, but it does set out a clear warning to potential grave robbers, stating: “Blessed be the man that spares these stones, And cursed be he that moves my bones.”

Shakespeare's grave in the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon curses any who would move the playwright's bones.
Shakespeare's grave in the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon curses any who would move the playwright's bones.

The church has never allowed an excavation of the grave, but in 2016, around the 400th anniversary of the writer’s death, the church allowed a ground-penetrating radar scan, which found that Shakespeare’s skull appeared to be missing.

Digging up clues about Shakespeare's grave:

  • There was a news report in 1879 that trophy hunters had dug up Shakespeare’s shallow grave sometime in 1794 and taken the skull. The report was dismissed rather quickly, but now the story may make sense.

  • The scan also found no evidence of metal in the grave, such as coffin nails, suggesting that Shakespeare and his wife, Anne Hathaway, were simply wrapped in sheets, or shrouds, and buried in the soil.

  • The Rev. Patrick Taylor of Holy Trinity Church said he was not convinced the skull had been taken, adding that “We shall have to live with the mystery of not knowing fully what lies beneath the stone.”

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    • Shakespeare's grave in the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon curses any who would move the playwright's bones.
      Shakespeare's grave in the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon curses any who would move the playwright's bones.