WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Polish archaeologists believe silk-draped skeletons found in a cathedral crypt are those of three grand masters who more than 600 years ago ruled the Teutonic Knights — an order that spread religion through force.
An archaeologist in the city of Kwidzyn — the Teutonic fortress of Marienwerder in the Middle Ages — said Friday that DNA tests indicate the remains are those of Werner von Orseln, the knights' leader from 1324-1330; Ludolf Koenig, who ruled from 1342-1345; and Heinrich von Plauen, who reigned from 1410-1413.
"Taking everything into account, we see that we are dealing with Teutonic Knights grand masters," Bogumil Wisniewski, an archaeologist who spearheaded the search, told The Associated Press. "We are 95, 96 percent sure it is them."
He said the skeletons, found in wooden coffins, were draped in silks — some painted with gold — a fabric reserved only to those highest in power in the Middle Ages.
DNA tests matched their age to that of the death age of the three grand masters. They also revealed temporary malnutrition in one of the skeletons that could match the 10-year imprisonment of von Plauen.
While Wisniewski acknowledged he could only be completely certain of the identities "if I met each face-to-face and he told me his name," he said several other indicators supported the find, including wall paintings in the cathedral showing the three grand masters and historic documents saying that von Orseln and Koenig were buried there. The order ruled in the area until early 16th century.
Wojciech Weryk, coordinator for city development and promotion, said the remains will be returned to the crypt and displayed under a special glass shield, so visitors can see them.
"This is such a valuable historic finding that we should show it," Weryk said.
The Order of the Teutonic Knights was founded in the late 12th century to aid German pilgrims in the Holy Land. It became a military order, wearing trademark white coats with black crosses, forcefully bringing Christianity to pagan Prussians. It took control along the Baltic Sea coast in what is now northern Poland.
The order was crushed by Polish and Lithuanian forces at the Battle of Grunwald in 1410.
By Monika Scislowska