I love living in a country that has such a massive breadth of history much of which we can still visit, and among some of the most fascinating sites are the sacred places in Britain. This country has seen it all when it comes to belief systems, from the worship of the elements by the earliest Brits, Druidism, Catholicism, the Reformation to today where our country is so culturally diverse that we have some large non-Christian worship buildings sitting alongside our traditional churches and cathedrals. But, the sacred sites in Britain are not restricted to religious buildings which you’ll find out if you carry on reading.
Canterbury Cathedral is one of the most well known and oldest Christian structures in England. Sacred places in Britain draw in millions of visitors each year, and Canterbury Cathedral is one of the top attractions. This church was founded by Saint Augustine at the end of the 6th century, during the mission to convert Anglo Saxons to Christianity. The site was recognised by Christians particularly when Thomas Becket was murdered in 1170, allegedly by order of King Henry II. Soon after the horrific murder, Christians reported miracles at Becket’s grave which enticed many pilgrims to the site.
Today pilgrims converge on Glastonbury to worship the great musical gods of the day at the annual festival, but in the past, visitors came for entirely different reasons. Facts and science are great, but who doesn’t love a good legend? The legend of Glastonbury is that King Arthur was taken to the Tor to recover from his wounds which he sustained fighting Mordred. A further myth is that Joseph of Arimathea arrived at Glastonbury with the Holy Grail itself, and it is now buried nearby. Monks from Glastonbury Abbey claimed to have found the graves of Arthur and his wife Guinevere and this site remains a place of pilgrimage.
Some of sacred British places are more than ancient. West Kennet Longbarrow is one of the most famous Neolithic tombs. The people of the Neolithic period were the first to create large communal burial places. The rituals which went with the burials involved interring items such as complete pottery vessels, human skulls, and polished stone axeheads along with the bodies. Archaeologists believe that these tombs were built by farmers as a way in which to claim the land as their own. You could stand upright in the tomb’s passage, however the chambers were much smaller. When the tombs were closed the people put up huge ‘blocking stones’ which barred the entrance in.
Stonehenge is probably the most well known of all British sacred sites but Avebury Stone Circle is perhaps the most impressive of them all when you consider the labour and creativity which went into its construction. In terms of area covered, it is huge compared to Stonehenge. It was built during the third millennium BC and is a ditch which is surrounded by three stone circles. The hand dug ditch was designed to hide any activity which happened within it from other people around. The stones were moved and raised by hand, something which must have taken a great deal of effort.
This sea cave, known as Yellow Top, is an ancient human burial site. The grave also contained ‘jewelry’ and the bones were stained with red ochre, which drove the Victorians to name the unknown body as The Red Lady of Paviland. The Victorians assumed that The Red Lady had been buried far from polite society as she was a woman of easy virtue. However, it has since been established that the Red Lady was male and lived around 33,000 years ago. It was also discovered that the body had been buried close by the skull of a mammoth leading archaeologists to believe that the person was a hunter, and his companions buried hunter and prey together
Although they sound like a coastal feature, they are actually inland in Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire. This is a set of caves at the base of cliffs which face each other across a wide gorge. It has been discovered that these caves were used as shelter by both our modern human ancestors and by Neanderthal people. The people who stayed in the caves carved out images of animals, birds and other abstract forms onto the limestone walls. In the Robin Hood Cave archaeologists discovered a silver horse bone which had a horse’s head etched on it. This one of the sacred British places shows an insight into our ancestors’ lives, interests and art works.
This site reveals the footprints of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers around 8,000 years ago. The footprints have been discovered as being those of men, women, children, and animals and are preserved by layers of silt, peat and mut. The changes in the route of River Severn expose this fantastic sight. You can place your hand in one of the footprints of a Mesolithic hunter and really feel as though you are traveling back in time.
If you want to visit sacred places in Britain there are so many – even if you just stick to our abbeys, great minsters and stone circles. Are you attracted to sacred sites?