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St. Mary Magdalen Church, Oxford

St. Mary Magdalen Church, Oxford

Grave robbing at St. Mary Magdalen church, Oxford

30 January 2023

The crime of grave-robbing is one you might associate more with isolated village churchyards, but at the time when anatomy schools were desperate for fresh cadavers, the more bold 'resurrection men' were not afraid to raid city centre churchyards as well.

Jackson's Oxford Journal (quoted in Marilyn Yurdan's The Dark Side of Oxford) reports on one occasion where grave-robbers were only narrowly thwarted in their attempt to steal the recently buried bodies of a woman and a young child from the churchyard of St. Mary Magdalen Church in the centre of Oxford.

The would-be grave-robbers were disturbed while digging into the fresh graves and were forced to abandon their attempt and flee. As a precautionary measure, the bodies were dug up by church authorities and stored in the church for the next few days just in case the resurrection men returned and tried to finish the job!

'Resurrection men' by Thomas Rowlandson

'Resurrection men' by Thomas Rowlandson (18th century)


  1. 'The Dark Side of Oxford: Crime, Poverty and Violence' by Marilyn Yurdan (Pen & Sword Books, 2019, ISBN: 9781526739650)