Sacred Wonders Of Britain (2013) s01e02 Episode Script

Episode 2

3,350 years ago, much of East Anglia was a landscape of marshland, shallow waterways and ponds.
Unless you wanted to swim or wade everywhere, this was how you got around.
For the people who lived on the edge of the Fens it must have been a mysterious landscape where the boundaries between sky and water and earth were always blurred and indistinct.
A mysterious and spiritual place where the everyday world met another.
Sacred Wonders of Britain is the story of how our island has been shaped by belief, from the end of the Ice Age 13,000 years ago through to Henry VIII's reformation in the 16th century.
From the heart of our cities to the furthest reaches of our islands.
On my journey so far I have seen how the coming of farming led to an age of ancestor worship and the building of great tombs to house their bones.
And how these tombs were then sealed and set aside as the new cult of the stone circle swept across the land.
In this programme, I'm in search of the sacred sites of the Britons of the Bronze Age and the Iron Age.
How they found meaning in the landscape, the hills and valleys, in the sky, in the water and in the trees.
And how their rituals and ceremonies brought spiritual solace in an unpredictable world.
Water - without it we die, and at the same time just a few inches of it are enough to drown in.
It's the stuff of life and death.
It seems that the ancients recognised its qualities but also sensed its mystery.
Saw that it was a transition between worlds.
It's a curious element.
Objects placed within it can appear magnified or distorted.
In deep lakes or the sea it can seem bottomless.
Perhaps to them it was a portal between worlds or a bridge connecting the unborn, the living and the dead.
Earth and water ebb and flow near Peterborough on the edge of the English Fens.
And the sanctity of these ancient marshlands goes back millennia.
Once known as the Holy Land of the English because of its five medieval abbeys and cathedrals, the Fens are a borderland between the sacred and the profane.
During the Bronze Age, around 1300 BC, the Fens covered an area much bigger than today - around one million acres.
Wetlands rarely provide great archaeological discoveries, but in 1982 archaeologist Francis Pryor stumbled upon something that would transform our understanding of the Bronze Age and its religious practices.
At about this point here I caught my foot on a piece of wood in the mud that had been dredged out by the dredger.
It was that simple? You tripped over it? I literally tripped over it.
And I scraped the mud off it and I could see that it hadn't been sharpened with a saw.
More significantly, you were dealing with a piece of wood that was several thousand years old.
And I could see that it was oak.
Now, oak won't grow in the fen so it had to have been brought here in the Bronze Age.
There would be no other explanation for finding mature timber under the peat? No.
No.
It has to have been put there.
And, I mean, it was one of the most extraordinary moments in my archaeological life I can remember.
I mean, all the hair went up on the back of my neck and I thought, this really has to be something big.
One piece of wood that turned out to be the tip of an archaeological iceberg - the first of hundreds of thousands of similar carved timbers.
Flag Fen was a lost sacred wonder of Bronze Age Britain.
So, what in fact had you found? Well, we didn't realise it at the time.
It took about a week of research and then we realised that what we'd got was a causeway - a line of posts, and we realised it was something fairly substantial.
It was running across the fen, straight, but we didn't know how far and then we realised that it goes from the hedge behind us, straight across this fen here, though the preservation hall, across the dyke, through the lake and over to the power station on the far side.
Francis had discovered a vast ancient wooden causeway constructed with 250,000 horizontal planks and 60,000 vertical posts.
The kilometre-long causeway, with its large posts, was designed to make a big impact.
Seemingly a spiritual boundary marker, visible from miles across the fenland countryside.
It's amazing to think it's down there now.
Yes.
Just a few feet below us.
Yeah.
Over the centuries, the causeway's ancient timbers sank into the fenland's damp, peaty soils and without light or oxygen they were well preserved.
I think what really gets me more than anything else is it seems to be much bigger than it possibly needed to be.
It's one of those where people are making it to be seen and it's the making of it that matters, as much, or even more, than the finished product.
Yes.
And I think in a very real sense this is a precursor to Peterborough Cathedral.
It's a thing of wonder.
I can remember when we were excavating here, you were down on your hands and knees below Bronze Age timbers.
It was, you know we were immersed in pre-history.
It was an extraordinarily moving feeling, you know.
Week after week, we'd be down in the Bronze Age.
It's awe inspiring.
The causeway had even more secrets to reveal.
Amongst the timbers were hidden hundreds of precious objects.
There is something very strange going on in the way that, erm, items are placed in the water among the posts of the causeway.
We found swords, daggers, spears - items that had been offered to the waters.
Only a small part of the causeway has been excavated but over 300 objects have been found.
There's no evidence that anybody actually lived on the causeway but they did visit it to carefully position valuable items amongst its timbers.
This is a dagger.
Now, when we excavated this, the first thing I came across was this.
This is an antler handle, but it was lying on the top like that so it had been pulled out and then placed on top of the blade.
This is crucially important because when we think of Bronze Age rituals, you imagine the sword Excalibur circling through the sky, landing in a splash and a crowd of a thousand people cheering.
But actually it wasn't like that.
They were far more intimate.
Why is it all happening around that wooden causeway? My own feeling is that the closest parallel for this for these ceremonies is a modern parish church.
These are ceremonies to do with the family.
You know, old man dies, old lady dies, you commemorate it.
That event out here.
It must have been a great comfort.
You mention a parish church, but to live in a mindset where you can reach your ancestors whenever you want.
The ancestors played an important part in ordinary people's ordinary daily lives.
The temptation to steal from the many precious objects must have been huge, but there is no evidence of theft or plunder.
Belief in the power of the ancestors was held in common by the whole community - a legacy from as far back as the Stone Age.
Even today, the Fenlands, with their bull rushes and marshes, have a profound hold on the people who live and work here.
It's a landscape still shrouded in mystery and superstition.
Peter Carter's family have worked as eel fisherman for over 500 years with old-fashioned techniques that, I have to warn you, might seem harsh to modern tastes.
I was taught by my grandfather.
These traps have been used well, we know for 3,000 years.
They did find an old trap which dated back from the Bronze Age that actually had a water vole skull in it, so we reckon they used water vole at the time.
I'm going to bait the trap up with old eel which has gone off now.
That's what they like.
They like food which has gone rotten.
So that's good and smelly now.
My grandfather always swore dead cat was the best option.
Nothing stinks like an old dead cat.
Archaeologists believe that Bronze Age people held the Fenland landscape in deep respect, possibly seeing it as imbued with spirits.
And for the ancients, water in particular seemed to hold immense symbolic power.
A fundamental source of both life and death.
Towards one end of the causeway was a large, two-acre raised wooden platform or island surrounded by marshland.
Its design and purpose has puzzled archaeologists.
Why create an island in the middle of it? Well, it's one of great mysteries of Flag Fen.
I think myself, what they are doing is they're creating little I don't know, you could almost call them shrines or chapels with pools of water, because we have excavated a couple of these, and they had big planks laid on the edge of water and then I think offerings and things had been made into those pools.
It's as if they were more interested not so much in the water, because we've been talking a lot about water, but it wasn't that.
It was the edge of water and dry land.
That was what really interested them.
It's the boundary between wet and dry.
It's the boundary between wet and dry.
Precisely that.
The objects that they are putting into the causeway and distributing around the wet areas on the platform, what do they tell us about the people and the lives they led? I think we've got to avoid the sort of cliche that people in the Fens were these wild, bog-loving people with webbed feet.
They were prosperous farmers leading prosperous lives in an environment that was remarkably rich.
I mean, this was a land of, sort of, milk and honey, really.
The offerings at Flag Fen were small scale personal affairs, not big ceremonies, akin to today's roadside shrines bedecked with the personal items of a lost loved one.
Flag Fen's causeway was maintained for 400 years until about 1000 BC when it was submerged under the Fens' rising water levels.
This place was special - magical to the ancients.
That's irrefutable.
Long after the causeway itself had been had been largely swallowed up by brackish water, they kept on coming.
They continued to revere the borderland between the earth and water.
The idea of sacred borders or boundaries is also the key to unlocking another of England's most remarkable sites.
It's one of Britain's hillforts, built between 500 BC and 400 BC.
Hillforts are among the most elusive of our sacred wonders - 2,000 sleeping giants dotted across the landscape.
A few miles inland from the Dorset coast, near Dorchester, lies Maiden Castle.
But this is much more than just a hillfort.
Just as at Flag Fen, there are boundaries here, but this time on a monumental scale, inspired by a sense of fear that turned macabre.
One of the problems with a site as monumentally huge as Maiden Castle is that once you are inside the ramparts there's actually very little to see.
It's just grass-covered humps and bumps.
In order to understand what was going on, you require methodical archaeological investigation.
To help me unpick the mysteries of why the people of Maiden Castle felt it necessary to build such enormous barricades against the outside world, I'm meeting Niall Sharples who led an archaeological dig here in the 1980s.
What do the ramparts and then the increasingly elaborate ramparts tell us about the state of mind of people in places like this? We think of ramparts, we think of defence, but it's much more about creating a sense of place and a sense of community for the people that are living inside them that's really important.
You're either inside or you're outside.
Yeah.
And I think that, to me, it indicates the kind of paranoia of the societies and the importance of the boundaries.
The boundaries are not simply about defence, they're also about warding off bad spirits, bad vibes from other people - the outside world.
So you're not defending yourself against neighbouring communities, you're defending yourself against evil.
Absolutely.
At its peak, a community of about 1,500 people lived at Maiden Castle and viewed both the physical and spiritual threat of the outside world with fear and trepidation.
Niall discovered that each summer from around 450 BC, up went another rampart - another defence against the real or imaginary terror that lay beyond its walls.
Today, Maiden Castle is the size of 50 football pitches with six-metre high ramparts.
Even by modern standards, it takes your breath away.
Yeah, I mean, it's like cathedrals in the medieval period.
It's conjuring up a different world.
A world of giants, perhaps.
What do people make of this ancient construction, you know? I can imagine quite quickly the sort of myths being spoken about how this was originally created and built.
For all the world it looks like a giant serpent coiled around the outside of the hill.
Over its lifetime, the layout of the buildings within the hillfort constantly evolved.
What would the settlement here have looked like at the height of the occupation of Maiden Castle? It would be very densely occupied.
At the moment, we'd be walking along a road probably with houses certainly houses down this side, maybe storage facilities and other houses down this side, and it would be organised like that.
Roads with rows of houses and storage facilities neatly laid out across the whole of the interior - the interior would be completely covered.
But it's at the castle's exterior boundaries that Niall found the most disturbing evidence of what look like sinister rituals buried deep in the ramparts.
Right at this point, in this corner here, I found a grain storage pit, the human burial right in it - right at this point.
So what does that say? What point is being made by that poor individual? Well, I don't know.
I think there is people being sacrificed and deliberately buried here.
So the person who was buried in that grain pit was somebody who had been killed to atone for a mistake that he had made? I think that is quite possible.
He made the wrong choice and he was sacrificed and placed at this point, because the boundaries are clearly really important.
Reinforcing the boundary of the fort with a burial was perhaps a way of keeping out not just other tribes but also bad spirits.
Nearby, the remains of a high status woman were found buried with a remarkable bronze mirror, suggesting the people living in the area had a complex and profound belief system.
Maiden Castle is a stunning place .
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but at least as evocative, if in a more intimate way, are the personal objects left behind by people who, if they didn't live in Maiden Castle lived in its vicinity.
These are the grave goods of the Portesham Mirror burial.
The image would have been not quite perfect so a person looking into the mirrored surface, rather than seeing themselves, might have thought they were seeing a relative or an ancestor.
That reflected world may have been a world elsewhere so the mirror becomes a portal, a glimpse through into something else.
Are you seeing the next world? Part of the fascination is with coming to terms with the idea that in death, she wasn't seen to be going to some .
.
heaven of clouds where she would sit around playing a harp.
She was going into the next world and so she needed all the things that marked her out as an important individual.
Maiden Castle's hillfort was inhabited for hundreds of years but towards the end of the Iron Age, around 100 BC, the fear of the outside world seems to have faded and the manic rampart building came to an end.
Attitudes to the burial of the dead had shifted.
Now people were buried like today, in formal cemeteries in individual graves.
We're standing, looking down at where the cemetery was for the later Iron Age.
What's interesting is that they're graves with people who've got objects which are their possessions and also they've got offerings such as pots full of food and all that's placed in there for people in the afterlife.
It shows a major change in religious beliefs.
But something else was shifting too that has endured right through to our modern age.
There's evidence that a new class was taking charge of religious ceremonies.
Priests.
So rather than individuals taking care of their own religious ideas and performing their own rituals, it becomes the remit of a specialist minority.
Yeah, you start to see people becoming specialists.
You have warriors who are good for warfare and carrying out specialised warfare.
You have craftsmen who are good at making really good quality iron.
And there are religious specialists who have the sacred knowledge, who know the right things to do.
That is no longer a democratic process.
Religion's not something you can do yourself.
Its specialists tell you what you have got to do and you do it in special places.
It's fascinating that always permeating life in one form or another is evidence of this pre-occupation with things sacred, things religious.
By the 1st century AD, dark clouds were gathering.
Across Europe, tribe after tribe, region after region was being conquered.
Maiden Castle was under real attack, not from the mysterious forces of evil but from human enemies.
Wait until you see what's in here.
It's a double burial .
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of two Iron Age men.
These individuals were among those frontline defenders.
There's evidence of catastrophic injury.
Do you see this iron projectile head wedged into the vertebrae of his spine? That's from a missile that's been fired, possibly at close range, into this man's front, so he's facing the weapon that killed him.
It's fascinating to speculate about who they were.
Perhaps they were part of a priestly class - men of knowledge, men of wisdom, men who remembered the law of the tribe.
And for that reason they had to be treated with respect.
What you have got here is the burial not just of two men, it's the burial of a whole way of life and a whole way of death.
We'll never know exactly who these men were but the enemy they died fighting was the invading Roman army.
Iron Age Britons were being brought to heel.
Even the great defences of Maiden Castle were no match for the Roman legions.
Maiden Castle quickly fell and in the conqueror's wake came a whole new set of beliefs.
But the hillfort's sanctity survived.
Although the Iron Age builders of Maiden Castle were driven away, what remained was the significance of the place, so that 300 years after the invasion, Romans came here and built this temple.
The desire to come up onto this hilltop and worship, to recognise it as a sacred place, is irresistible.
The Romans may have co-opted Iron Age sacred places but as they marched north to the edge of the known Roman world, they apparently found a belief system of a completely different order.
This is Anglesey.
With its windswept beauty, rocky outcrops and the dark waters of the lake at Llyn Cerrig Bach - the site of treasure and strange sacred offerings.
Roman chronicles suggest that when they arrived here in the 1st century AD, they saw this as a hotbed of ancient extremism.
For them, Anglesey was the home of the druids - the Celtic Iron Age priests who ruled the territory with an iron grip based around religious intimidation, even human sacrifice.
And it was here, across the Menai Strait, that the Roman historian and chronicler Tacitus described the site that faced the Roman army when they confronted the druids in AD 60.
"The enemy, in a close-packed array of armed men "interspersed with women dressed like Furies in funeral black "with streaming hair and brandishing torches.
"Round about were the druids, their hands raised to heaven, "pouring out dire curses.
" Even to war-hardened Roman soldiers the druids appeared a terrifying spectacle.
Living across northern Europe but with a base in Anglesey, the druids were believed by the Romans to be malign priests who might wield supernatural powers.
I'm meeting Ronald Hutton to see if he can shine some light on the druids' dark reputation.
What do we know about the druids? What we know about them is mostly from the writings of Ancient Greek or Roman authors who didn't have druids themselves.
According to some of those, druids were wise, compassionate, admirable people, versed in the natural world, humanity and the stars.
And according to other writers they were blood-thirsty priests presiding over a gloomy, gory religion, with an especially nasty line in human sacrifice.
So we have these vivid images of them but nothing actually by the druids themselves.
What rituals and beliefs and learning do the Romans and Greeks write about? The most exciting is in one called Pliny, who is interested in the natural history of the world.
It's he who says that the oak tree, like this beauty, is the favourite tree of the druids, and especially when mistletoe is found growing on it, which almost never happens.
When it does, the druids get really excited, they hold a ritual on the sixth day after the next new moon after noticing the mistletoe in which one of them, dressed in white, climbs up into the tree with a golden sickle and cuts the mistletoe down to be made into medicine and they sacrifice white cattle.
It's a glowing description.
Why were the Romans in particular so upset about the druids and determined to crush them and drive them out? Well, the Romans said they were doing it because the druids were barbarians, especially addicted to human sacrifice so it's a liberation of their people to get rid of their druids.
It may, of course, have been dark propaganda suiting a conquering army, but the picture the Romans presented was that they loathed the druids for their human sacrifice.
More recently, historians and archaeologists have looked for evidence.
During the late Iron Age, bogs were seen as portals to the underworld.
Dangerous places with their eerie strange light.
In 1984, a macabre human body, known as Lindow Man, was discovered not far from Anglesey.
He was high status - well fed, trimmed beard and nails.
Could he be evidence of human sacrifice performed by druids? 2,000 years later, the cause of death is still controversial.
One pathologist who examined the remains detected evidence for a ritualised killing in that he'd been killed three times by a beating to the head, he'd been throttled with some kind of garrotte and his throat had been cut.
There was mistletoe pollen in his stomach and he had died at a time when the druids were powerful in Britain.
But there's an alternative interpretation.
Another pathologist felt that it was only head wounds that had killed him.
That his death was relatively straightforward and the mistletoe pollen had blown onto his food before he ate it.
That it was only there accidentally.
Some believe Lindow Man could even have been from a later period.
The evidence for a ritual druidic killing is inconclusive.
Indeed, the case for druids performing any human sacrifice at all remains unproven.
But one thing's for sure, Anglesey's water and bogs were clearly a prime focus of religious activity.
For the people who lived here, the very landscape itself was sacred.
Spirits, even gods, resided in all aspects of the natural world.
In trees, rocks, the sky above and, of course, in water.
Not only was water the source of all life, it was also dangerous and capricious, able to destroy as well as to promote life by flooding crops and homes and by drowning animals and people.
Here at Llyn Cerrig Bach on Anglesey, in the shadow of these jets at RAF Valley, one of the most extraordinary discoveries was made in this lake.
During World War II, when the RAF runway was extended, a strange collection of Iron Age artefacts was discovered here by Eflyn Owen Jones' father.
My father remembered that during the morning he had seen an old chain lying in the mud and he decided to have it investigated.
And it turned out, when a gentleman from Cardiff came up, that it was 2,000 years old gang chain and he was asked to be taken to show where he'd found it and sure enough there were swords and currency bars and various other important objects that came to light in the same position.
The precious objects deposited at Llyn Cerrig Bach were of high status and belonged to individuals who enjoyed a top rank.
These are just three of the vast collection of objects that were offered up to the water at Llyn Cerrig Bach.
This first one here, it's considered to be one of the finest examples of Iron Age art to come from anywhere in Britain.
It's made of very fine sheet bronze.
What it was for? Difficult to say.
There are rivet holes so it seems to have been pinned on a piece of wood.
It might have been decoration on a chariot.
It could have been part of the decoration on a shield.
This item here is an iron sword.
It hasn't ended up bent double by accident.
There are many examples both in Britain and on the Continent of weapons and other items being put beyond the use of humankind, bent and broken, to demonstrate that they are now leaving the world of people and they're entering the world of the gods.
This final piece is of a different atmosphere, a different feel.
It's a slave chain.
You know, when you feel the links in your hands, there's a real weight to them and you get a sense of the burden and the suffering that would have been endured by the people who were forced to wear this.
Probably in most cases it would have fitted very tightly around the neck so that it rubbed and chaffed.
Part of the process of crushing the spirit and making the person realise they were no longer free - they were now captive and a slave.
I suppose the big question is why these objects went into the water in the first place? I would say you have to ask yourself why people go into a church or a temple or a mosque.
The people went to the water of Llyn Cerrig Bach because it was a sacred place and because they had questions they want answered or they wanted to give thanks, wanted to ask for help and support.
Maybe in the event of a catastrophe a whole community might come together as one and as many as possible of the individuals in that group might try to make an offering so that there's this collective appeal to the powers of the world beyond.
Archaeologist Frances Lynch has no doubt about the importance of Anglesey's place as a sacred Iron Age site.
Who were the people who were conducting these services officiating at this kind of performance? Well, presumably they would have been a sort of priestly cast and there were various, erm, levels of importance amongst the priestly cast, of which the highest were those who were called druids.
Perhaps the ritual placing of objects in this lake was a religious ceremony made by priests, even druids, as they faced the might of the Roman army.
Whoever it was had a reason to leave something of value here.
But in victory or in defeat, you know, triumph or disaster, people might be drawn to a place that they think leads to other worlds.
Yes.
And I think victory or defeat equally.
You know, so that you can take either explanation for these broken and damaged swords and such like.
Like the druids' reputation for human sacrifice, the truth as to why these objects were deposited will probably never be known.
All we really know is that the druids were reported in Roman times as a challenge to the Empire's authority.
Crossing the Menai Strait, the Roman legions destroyed not only those they called druids but also their oak groves, breaking forever their sacred link with Anglesey.
What should we make of the druids? How should we see them? Here on Anglesey, some of the sacred sites seem innocent, faintly magical.
Then you have to consider the Roman point of view.
The Romans seem to have seen them as some sort of religious extremists.
At the very least it's fair to say the druids remain mysterious, elusive to the last.
As the Romans consolidated their political power in Britain other spiritual beliefs and sacred places weren't attacked but embraced.
The Romans found they had a lot in common with the native Iron Age people who become known as the Celts.
Both were Pagans who believed in numerous gods and goddesses and saw water as having sacred properties.
There's a famous view of Bath.
The crescents and circuses built with honey-coloured stone.
But imagine if you were here 2,500 years ago when this was just a wooded valley.
And somewhere down at the bottom, shrouded in mist, was a spring that gave forth millions of gallons of constantly hot water.
To the Ancients in this area it must have been nothing less than a wonder.
Bath's natural spring bubbled out of the earth, creating dark green pools tinged by red iron salts still visible in Bath today, but to the Celts, possibly evoking the appearance of blood.
For the Iron Age people who lived around here, this steam enshrouded swamp must have been a magical place, a mysterious place, even forbidding.
Before the Romans arrived in the fist century AD, the Dobunni tribe lived in this area.
Archaeologist Barry Cunliffe was director of a major archaeological dig in the early 1960s and found evidence the Dobuuni treated the waters with reverence.
They had built a gravel causeway out towards the main spring, which is in the centre where you see it bubbling up now and people walking out on this causeway and getting as close to the heart of the spring - as close to the presence of the deity.
This is a very, very sacred place where the idea is that this is the fissure that leads down into the underworld.
The goddesses who presided here were down there.
I love the idea of there being a place that people would have come to from a time before memory where something was coming up from the depths coloured red and was hot and inexplicable and therefore magical.
Yes, the idea of water coming out of the ground is in itself magical, I think, particularly when it bubbles out like this, but the fact that it comes out hot was stunning to people.
And the Romans, much, much later, it was one of the wonders of the world that they wrote about, these Bath springs.
And it's one of those lovely elements that that reminds you that some places make even the Romans Johnny-come-lately.
This place was hugely important and always had been.
Hundreds of Celtic objects have been found in or near Bath's bubbling spring waters.
Once the Romans had consolidated their power they began to adopt local Celtic deities, often out of superstition and to prevent getting on the wrong side of powerful gods and goddesses like these ones found near Bath.
These are Roman sculptures made by Romans and worshipped by Romans.
What's fascinating is that although they are made by Romans they feature elements of the older Celtic Iron Age religion.
These are the three mother goddesses.
It's all about the Celtic power of three, which is an idea that goes right across Celtic Europe.
These ones are even more interesting in a way in that you've got Mercury, a Roman god, beside a female deity, who is probably Celtic.
Possibly Rosmerta, possibly Nemetona.
It's as though the older Iron Age religion, like the water here, welled up through the Roman thinking so that within the Roman iconography you've got Celtic religion still surviving.
Unlike the Celts who kept the spring natural, the Romans built a stone structure around the sacred pool, controlling the water for their own ends, and built a temple next door.
No coincidence Bath's medieval abbey was built nearby too.
Today, Bath's famous Georgian pump room with its neoclassical Doric columns sits at the entrance of the long lost Roman temple.
Barry, if we were here when the Romans had just finished their building work, what would they be looking at? Well, we are just on the edge of the precinct of the Roman temple.
The temple itself would have been behind us, across where the street now is.
What was the scale of the building? Was it large? Really quite small.
The temple housed the cult objects and all sacred objects were there.
Very few people would be allowed actually into the temple itself.
The priest and one or two special people.
Everyone around would have known about the spring and would have been in fear of the spring and the Romans must have picked up that and simply went with the magic of the place.
The Romans spotted similarities between the Celtic goddess of the hot spring, Sulis, and their own goddess, Minerva, and conflated the two.
A life-size gilded bronze head of Sulis Minerva was placed inside the hallowed temple, surrounded by flames and tended by priests.
The Romans' reverence of the Bath spring didn't stop there.
Positioned above the temple's entrance was a mysterious carved head of a Gorgon.
What is a Gorgon? It's Medusa from the classical story of the fearsome monster that can turn you to stone.
What you've got, in fact, is a male with those billowing moustaches and the serpents in the hair.
OK, it looks like a Gorgon, but it's a male Gorgon.
It's conflation almost certainly between the idea of the Gorgon in classical mythology and some sort of river or water God.
So, again, you've got this flavour of the water and the flavour of the Romans merging their beliefs with the Celtic beliefs.
So their religion and the religion of the people that they found themselves among are flowing together in that head.
That's exactly right.
In worship and ritual, the Romans had a lot in common with the Celts.
They may have banned human sacrifice but here on an altar outside the temple, a Roman priest known as an augur would conduct religious ceremonies by sacrificing animals.
It was on that flat surface that the animals brought in for sacrifice were actually sacrificed.
Would the people have performed the sacrifices themselves or was that done for you by a priestly class? It would have been done by priests on their behalf.
They would have paid the money for the beasts and it might be a goat or a sheep or if you were really wealthy it would be a cow of some sort and the animal would be sliced up there, probably its liver taken out and then the augur would look at the liver and foretell the future.
You would be making the sacrifice because you are asking the god a question.
"Is it propitious for me to go on a trading journey?" The augur would take out the liver and understand it, read it, look at the spots on it, and say, "Yeah, it's OK.
"You can go in the next three days but then don't go after that", or something like that.
And then that is one part of it.
The other part would be, of course, they would cut up the beast and there would be a feast, so there is a party as well.
Was there a comeback? Supposing you paid all that money, sacrificed your bull, gone and had a disastrous trip, lost everything, could you come back and say, "What was that about?" Well, you could then the answer would be, "You didn't pay proper respects to the goddess when you were here "and she is getting her own back", so there is no answer to that.
The Romans brought their own religious practices to Bath but it was always the hot water from the sacred spring and the complex of bathing pools they built which were the main focus of attention.
For Romans, this was a place to be seen, where you came to be exfoliated and scraped clean, socialise, strike business deals, play games, eat and drink.
Entertainers would put on shows, healers would come and apply their lotions and ointments.
Bath's sacred spring - a gift from Sulis Minerva, was where you came to be rejuvenated, to have your life enhanced, and all of that power was based upon a constant flow of hot water from the beating heart of a goddess.
The spring was a place to seek divine intervention by giving gifts to the goddess.
Silver dishes, jewellery and hundreds of coins were recovered from the baths.
Throwing coins into water for good luck is universal, shared by religions across the world, but here it had a sting in the tail.
One of the ways in which Romano-British people sought to communicate with their goddess was by sending her messages written on little sheets of led like this one.
What's fascinating about them is that they generally show a real vindictive streak on the behalf of the population because the crimes they're reporting are often very trivial like the theft of a piece of clothing, but the punishments they're calling down are truly draconian.
We're talking about the goddess being asked to turn the wrong-doer into liquid or to make him impotent and then bleed to death.
Having written it all out, you would fold the lead in half so that nobody else could read it, only the goddess, and then it was thrown in.
This is the kind of religion that I can get my head around.
It's about asking for direct action.
It's the goddess as the ultimate deterrent.
Bath's sacred spring has likely always mattered to people, ever since the first of them caught sight of its bubbling waters tens of thousands of years ago.
The Romans revered it.
So did the Iron Age people before them.
And still today, thousands come to taste the water.
English water, Scotch whisky - now that's life enhancing.
The Romans' readiness to include gods, goddesses and sacred sites from other peoples was not to last.
A new movement was ushering in a religion that would ultimately overtake the old beliefs.
Despite the momentous change it would bring, it first took hold in the most humble of places - under cover, in the intimacy of people's everyday homes.
All you can see is a tranquil river meandering through fertile grassland.
You've entered the estate of a wealthy landowner.
I'm at Lullingstone in Kent, just south of London, where a prosperous Roman took a large country estate, building himself a luxurious villa - perfect seclusion for private worship.
When he was a schoolboy in the 1950s, archaeologist Brian Philp spent his summers working as a volunteer on the site and remembers the excitement of unearthing Lullingstone Villa's secrets.
I suppose what I want to hear about is what it felt like to be here during the period of discovery and unearthing.
Probably in the third or fourth year we realised were not just dealing with a large Roman villa perhaps typical of several, but this site had special religious and ritual significance of outstanding importance.
The removal of over 2,000 tonnes of soil was to reveal fascinating clues in this one home and how during the Roman occupation of Britain, generation after generation marked the changes in their religious beliefs.
The villa was vast, covering about 600 square metres with 20 rooms.
Brian is taking me to the villa's cellar, used for Pagan worship and known as a cult room.
It contains sacred images painted in the 1st century AD.
Right, Neil, follow me and we'll have a look at the main walls of the villa.
Goodness.
It's a genuinely substantial building built to last.
That's right.
So it's luxury accommodation for someone wealthy? Here's something rather special here.
And now we're looking at a very large and deep room Right.
.
.
cellar-like in proportions.
Is that a well? That's right.
For clean water for drinking and so many other things and it's opposite the niche paintings of three water nymphs.
So there's clearly a relationship between water deities and the water supply.
That's not accidental, yes.
Symmetrically placed opposite each other.
So you keep the deities happy and they purify the water? That's right, yes.
You appease the deities and make offerings at intervals, perhaps, and you'll get constant fresh, good, clear water.
So when this room was in use, the occupants of the villa were Pagan? There can be no doubt of that.
Two stone busts dating from the 2nd century AD were found on the cellar steps, believed to be of dead relatives or even a Roman emperor who may have once lived in the villa, indicating by this time religious practice in the cellar had most likely changed to ancestor worship.
Like the water deities, they may also have been revered to keep the water clean.
But Pagan worship of water deities or ancestors wasn't to last.
Now a new religion was sweeping through the Roman world but with dangerous consequences for believers.
Secret messages hidden in the mosaics illustrate the fear worshippers faced.
This tells the story of Bellerophon, a mythical hero who rode the winged horse Pegasus, killing the Chimera - a fire-breathing she-monster.
But there's more to it than meets the eye.
There's a suggestion that the Bellerophon may be the success of good over evil, which is a good theme, and it's possible here that you can juggle with some of these letters in that second line.
By selecting certain letters at regular intervals you can get the word Jesu out of that.
You begin with the first letter there, you've got 'IUSTIUS', That's I, but of course it's a J.
There's the E, there's the S, there's the V - Jesu.
Codes like this are known to have been in use in other parts of the world at the time.
It seems a regular pattern.
It's been suggested that the owners who put this floor in just might have been covert Christians.
Goodness.
You know, there's a covert operation in here.
So this is people with a classical education understanding the old gods but they are aware of the new religion coming in and they are seeking to represent it and honour it, but in a very subtle, almost invisible way.
A covert way.
The importance of the Lullingstone mosaics cannot be overestimated.
They show a pivotal moment in spiritual belief in Britain before Christianity swept across the country.
Although they are 1,700 years old, the hidden meanings are not lost on local mosaic artist Oliver Budd.
The mosaics shine out of the gloom and are so wonderful and, sort of, time transcending.
As an artist, I mean, I'm putting little symbolisms into all my work.
You might not see them or you might see them, that's the beauty of it.
And we have a bit of fun with it as well, you know.
We put in hidden meanings and things and there are hidden meanings in those Lullingstone mosaics.
I often think about those ancient mosaic artists because they were people just like me.
They'd come into their studio every day, they'd be working on mosaics, they would probably be having trouble getting paid.
There would be all the detritus of life, basically, that they'd have to deal with but at the same time they're creating these wonderful things that will last forever.
In 313 AD, and after nearly 300 years of oppression, Christianity was legalised across the Roman empire.
Lullingstone's covert Christians could now, for the first time, worship openly.
If we come across to this end of the building, there's something even more interesting.
30 years later, after the floors were laid, this end of the building was converted.
The room above our deep basement became a Christian church.
When you say converted, you really mean converted.
Oh, yes.
Converted from the old religions to the new.
So they built a church on top of the old cult centre? Yes, they created it within northern end of the building.
This became a house church.
A house church.
And that's where we found all the burnt planks from the floor and in it thousands of pieces of broken wall plaster.
The broken bits of plaster have been meticulously restored and this time there is little doubt who the figures are worshipping.
The wall paintings from Lullingstone Villa are the only evidence of Christian belief in that building.
Without their survival and discovery it would have been any other Roman villa.
Here they are.
What you have are six standing figures with crosses on their robes.
They also have their arms raised in the attitude of prayer.
That was the posture adopted by early Christians and it's still used by priests today preaching to the congregation.
Here in a separate artwork from Lullingstone is a Chi-Rho symbol.
Chi-Rho was essentially a secret symbol by which early Christians identified one another.
It's the first two letters of the word Christ using the Greek alphabet.
The first is a letter that looks like an X - that's Chi.
And the second is a letter like an elongated P - that's Rho.
Chi-Rho.
And you also have alpha and omega.
First and last - from creation to the apocalypse.
Lullingstone's paintings are the earliest known examples of Christian worship in Britain and signal the beginning of the end of Paganism, which had prevailed for thousands of years.
But even though the villa's owners had built their own house church in this transition to the new religion, it seems they preferred not to completely turn their backs on the old gods.
Finally they become confident that Christianity is safe and they build a church.
Absolutely correct.
There is a suggestion that even while the church was in use, the busts in the bottom the marble busts in the bottom, were still being venerated because they survived.
They weren't moved and they survived throughout the history of the site.
In fact, when the floor collapsed, it landed on top of them.
So they really do like to hedge their bets in here.
Keep backing all the gods just in case.
Good idea.
The Roman religion had aspects in common with that of the Pagans, including belief in many gods and goddesses.
But they found much here that was abhorrent to them, including human sacrifice.
The coming of Christianity, the belief in one god and one god only, brought further change and many Pagan sites were swept away or replaced with churches.
The old beliefs could not and did not survive, but the sacred places that mattered then, that had always mattered, still matter now.
Next time, I'll be discovering how the early church created its saints and its martyrs .
.
and how their shrines evolved to become some of our greatest sacred wonders.
The mighty cathedrals of the medieval age.