A Rodgers Forge Calvert is intrigued by 3 coffins 3rd door to history being opened today

November 13, 1992|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Staff Writer

ST. MARY'S CITY -- As his name might suggest, Charles Baltimore Calvert has more than a little interest in this week's opening of three lead coffins from what may be the 17th century crypt of Maryland's founding Calvert family.

"I am descended from George [Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore], and more directly from the fifth Lord Baltimore," Mr. Calvert said yesterday from his home in Rodgers Forge.

If scientists really do find Philip Calvert when they open the last of the coffins today, as some archaeologists have speculated, they will come face-to-face with Mr. Calvert's 12th great uncle.

Philip Calvert was the colony's first chancellor and was governor briefly in 1660-1661. He was Sir George's youngest son and a half-brother to Cecilius Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore.

"I have been following it in the newspapers, and I think it is fascinating," Mr. Calvert said of the lead-coffin project.

So have many other Calvert descendants across the country who have phoned or written Historic St. Mary's City asking for information about the project.

Some have expressed concern and asked whether project organizers obtained the family's permission to exhume the coffins, said Karin B. Stanford, spokeswoman for the project. That was problematic, Ms. Stanford said, because the burials have not been positively identified.

"We've gone to the state medical examiner and the county state's attorney and obtained permission for the exhumation of unidentified 17th century settlers," she said.

Last week, the Lead Coffin Project also won support -- and a $2,500 check -- from the Society of the Ark and the Dove, the hereditary and genealogical society of descendants of Maryland's founders.

The society has about 500 members, 200 of them active, according to Mr. Calvert, who is slated to become its next governor.

The Catholic Church has also lent its blessing to the research. The crypt lies beneath the ruins of the Colonial capital's Great Brick Chapel, the birthplace of Catholic worship in British America.

"We don't see it as any kind of desecration," said the Most Rev. William D. Curlin, Bishop of Southern Maryland. "We see it as an affirmation of our Catholic identity with Maryland, affirming that Maryland was established under Catholics as a place of freedom for all religions." Bishop Curlin is a member of the project's advisory committee, and on Nov. 4, Cardinal James A. Hickey, of the Archdiocese of Washington, went to the site and offered prayers for the disinterment. Catholic services also will be offered when the human remains are returned to their burial place after the research has been completed.

Not everyone has been so comfortable with the disturbance of the burials. Within his circles, Mr. Calvert said, "older persons, especially, have had great concerns about the disturbance of people who have been buried." But, speaking for himself, he said, "We don't have that many opportunities to study individuals from this era."

Important issues in medicine, anthropology and environmental science can be addressed by the Lead Coffin Project, while balancing family concerns that "the Christian interests of these persons -- Catholic and Episcopal -- will be properly respected."

"I really appreciate the . . . courteous and professional way they have gone about addressing all the issues" of concern to the Calvert family, he said.

The large coffin is to be lifted from the crypt today and opened in an adjoining Army medical tent. Gov. William Donald Schaefer is scheduled to be present during a portion of the day's work.

In the smallest coffin, opened on Monday, researchers found skeletal remains of a baby -- probably a little girl about 6 months old -- who evidently suffered severe nutritional deficiencies, and perhaps other illnesses.

The second coffin, opened Wednesday, held the remains of a woman of at least 50. In life, she had suffered a terrible fracture of the right thigh.

Dr. Miller has speculated that the remains may be those of Philip Calvert's first wife, Anne Wolseley, who died at St. Mary's City in 1681, a year before her husband. She is thought to have been in her 40s or 50s.

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