EBK Activity Sheets


Churches from Pagan Shrines
Converting Sacred Places made Everyone Happy

Green Man Carving in a Church -  Nash Ford PublishingSt. Augustine of Canterbury said that new Christians should convert pagan temples into Christian churches. These might be Roman temples, Celtic sacred groves or Saxon temples or groves. Look out for:

  • Saxon placenames named after their pagan gods and ending in -ley. These show where there were pagan sacred clearings or 'groves'. This was probably on the site of the present-day church.
  • Round or curved churchyards. These are thought to show the round temenos (boundary) of Romano-British temples.
  • Churches on lonely prominent hills. They may replace pagan temples as these were popular spots to build them.
  • Churches dedicated to St. Michael (especially on hills). He was the archangel who defeated the Devil. So churches on pagan sites were dedicated to him because he was the best saint to stamp out the old pagan gods. Are there any near you?
  • Churches dedicated to some other saints:
    • St. George who killed the Dragon just like St. Michael defeated the Devil.
    • St. Leonard had many churches in rural areas and may have replaced Cernunnos, Celtic god of the Countryside.
    • St. Catherine (often on hills) had the wheel on which she was killed as her symbol. She may have replaced the Celtic chief god, Belenos, whose symbol was also the wheel.
  • Carvings in churches of naked men or women, green men (faces with leaves growing from them, especially out of the mouth) & woodwoses (hairy giants, especially in Suffolk). They were put there in medieval times to remind people to stay away from pagan ideas.
  • Holy wells. They are water springs named after Christian saints. They were probably first named after pagan gods. St. Anne is very popular. The name was probably converted from Anu, the Celtic Earth goddess.



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