Bishop Jacques de Vitry’s grave was opened in Oignies (Aiseau-Presles, Hainaut) at 3:00pm on Tuesday. His bones will be taken to scientists at the University of Namur for DNA extraction and analysis in order to further understand both Jacques de Vitry and the Treasure of Oignies. “What makes this moment special is seeing historians work with pure science tools such as DNA,” points out Etienne Brouillard, communications officer for the Archeological Society of Namur. In his opinion, the Oignies Treasure is “one of the seven wonders of Belgium.”
“We are looking at 2 types of elements: Jacques de Vitry’s bones, and the mitres,” he explains. Traditionally historians thought that the bishop buried at the Oignies priory on 1241and the owner of the mitres included in the Treasure of Oignies were one and the same person, Jacques de Vitry himself, a religious leader and philanthropist who died in Rome in 1240.
No-one has ever rebutted or confirmed this. In order to be sure, the Archeological Society is launching the Cromioss science project with the support of the King Baudoin Foundation. “We already know there are bones missing from the skeleton. The bones will be exhumed, identified and listed. An anthropological examination will check whether we are dealing with a male, whether he died in the 13th century, etc.” adds Etienne Brouillard.
Cromioss is a scientific novelty in Namur, and draws on several fields: archaeology, anthropology, biology, but also Nuclear Physics, in order to help historians. “The DNA found will be compared to artefacts thought to have belonged to Jacques de Vitry such as the mitres. These will also be analysed (how they were made, tinted, etc.),” added Etienne Brouillard.
The 13th-century bones are precious, and fragile. UNamur researchers are “practising” first on less important 13th century bones on loan from the Archeology Department of SPW (Walloon Public sector).