Friday, 6 October 2006

Archepiscopal False Teeth

They're not a very attractive sight but they're a link to an important episode in our ecclesiastical history. These porcelain teeth belonged to Arthur Richard Dillon, Archbishop of Toulouse (1721-1806), one of the hundreds of Catholic clergy who sought sanctuary in Protestant England during the French Revolution. The arrival of the emigre clergy led to the opening of a number of missions around England and was an important step on the road to Catholic Emancipation.

Archbishop Dillon was the son of an Irish officer who was 'exiled' on account of his Jacobite sympathies and found service in the French army. According to one report:

Archaeologists discovered the teeth, still snugly in his mouth, when they opened his coffin in London's St Pancras graveyard during excavations for a terminus for a rail link to the undersea Channel Tunnel. Made of porcelain with gold springs, and individually crafted for a perfect fit, dentures like these were
invented in France in the 1770s.

It is believed Dillon may have bought them from the celebrated Parisian dentist, Nicholas De Chemant, before fleeing to England at the time of the 1789 Revolution."These unique artifacts reflect a pivotal time in dental history, with the adoption of new materials and methods of manufacture," said Natasha Powers, a Museum of London archaeologist who has written a paper about the teeth for the latest issue of the British Dental Journal."They also represent a period of significant social and economic change for the upper echelons of French society."

Phil Emery, an archaeologist with Gifford, the engineers working on the rail link, said the teeth, "are in remarkably good condition - they have seen considerable use." The dentures are slightly cracked, he said, and worn down on the left, suggesting the archbishop chewed more on that side.

When Archbishop Dillon died in London he was buried in Old St Pancras graveyard, which was particularly favoured by English Catholics because it was said that the adjoining church was the last to hold celebrations of Mass at the Reformation. These amazing teeth went on display today at the Museum of London, apparently because it's World Smile Day.

PS I'm just back from my Day of Recollection, so I've given myself permission to turn on the computer!

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