The religious reuse of Roman structures in Anglo-Saxon England
This thesis examines the post-Roman and Anglo-Saxon religious reuse of Roman structures, particularly burials associated with Roman structures, and churches on or near Roman buildings. Although it is known that the Anglo-Saxons existed in and interacted with the vestigial, physical landscape of Roman Britain, the specific nature and result of this interaction has not been completely understood. The present study examines the Anglo-Saxon religious reuse of Roman structures in an attempt to understand the Anglo-Saxon perception of Roman structures and the impact they had on the developing ecclesiastical landscape. In particular, the study reveals how we may better understand the structural coincidence of Roman buildings and early-medieval religious activity in the light of the apparent discontinuity between many Roman and early-medieval landscapes in Britain. The study begins by providing an overview of the evidence for existing Roman remains in the Anglo-Saxon period. It examines the archaeological and historical evidence, and discusses literary references to Roman structures in an attempt to ascertain how the ruins of Roman villas, towns and forts would have been perceived. Particular attention is paid to The Ruin, a poem in Old English which provides us with our only contemporary description of Roman remains in Britain. The first chapter concludes by examining the evidence for the religious reuse of Roman secular structures in Gaul and Rome, providing a framework into which the evidence in the subsequent chapters is placed. The examination the proceeds to burials on or associated with Roman structures. It shows that the practice of interring the dead into Roman structures occurred between the fifth and eighth centuries, but peaked at the beginning of the seventh, with comparatively few sites at the extreme end of the data range. The discussion is based on the evidence of 115 sites that show this burial rite, but it is very apparent that this number is only a fragment of the whole, as these inhumations are often mistakenly identified as Roman, even when the stratigraphy demonstrates that burial occurred after the ruin of the villa, as is often the case. The placement of the bodies show a conscious reuse of the ruinous architecture, rather then suggesting interment was made haphazardly on the site: frequently the body is placed either centrally within a room, or is in contact with some part of the Roman fabric. Some examples suggest that there may have been a preference for apsidal rooms for this purpose. Churches associated with Roman buildings are then examined, and their significance in the development of the English Christian landscape is discussed. Churches of varying status – from minsters to chapels – can be found on Roman buildings throughout the country. Roman structures were clearly chosen for the sites of churches from the earliest Christian period into the tenth, and probably even the eleventh century. Alternatives to the so-called proprietary model are examined, and their origins and development are discussed, particularly in reference to the continental evidence. The end of the study places the thesis into a wider landscape context, and introduces potential avenues of further exploration using GIS. The study concludes that there are a number of causes underlying the religious reuse of Roman buildings, each not necessarily exclusive of the other, and that the study of these sites can further any investigation into the development of the ecclesiastical topography of England, and the eventual development of the parochial landscape.