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Ancient Roman shrine discovered under Anglican cathedral


Peter Broster, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

John Burger - published on 03/09/23

Ten feet down, archaeologists find what was long rumored to be beneath the cemetery at Leicester Cathedral in England.

There have been stories for a long time about there being an ancient Roman shrine beneath an Anglican cathedral in central England. Now, archaeologists have uncovered what they believe to be that shrine.

“Experts from the University of Leicester said Tuesday that they found what appears to be the cellar of a Roman building and a fragment of an 1,800-year-old altar stone during excavations in the grounds of Leicester Cathedral,” Associated Press reported.

“There’s always been this folk tale that there was a Roman temple underneath the cathedral,” said Mathew Morris, excavation director for the University of Leicester’s Archaeological Services. “Until now, there’s been no way of being able to say whether there was or not.” But, after diggers removed some 10 feet of earth, Morris said “there is definitely a Roman place of worship underneath the cathedral.”

Archaeologists discovered what they believe to be a 2nd-century cellar, along with Roman pottery and coins. 

The Romans built a fort around A.D. 50 in Leicester, a settlement known as Ratae Corieltauvorum, AP said. The Normans began the construction of what would one day become Leicester Cathedral — at that time simply a church dedicated to St. Martin of Tours — some 900 years ago. 

“It was rebuilt and enlarged between the 13th and 15th centuries and became the ‘Civic Church,’ with strong links with the merchants and guilds (with the Guildhall being located nearby),” says the cathedral’s website.”Just over 100 years ago the Victorian architect, Raphael Brandon, magnificently restored and, in places, rebuilt the church, including the addition of a 220-foot spire. When the Diocese of Leicester was re-established in 1927, the church was hallowed as Leicester Cathedral.”

The main worship space of the cathedral is closed temporarily, as the whole complex is undergoing a multi-milion-dollar renovation, including the dig.

It was not the University of Leicester’s first project with ties to the cathedral. In 2013, its archaeological team found the remains of Richard III, England’s last Plantagenet king and the last English monarch to have died in battle. He was reinterred in the cathedral in 2015.

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