Anglo-Saxon Pagan Temple

This is a reconstruction of building D2 at the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Yeavering. It is widely agreed to be a pagan temple or shrine room which the early English called a weoh or hearg. The building contained no evidence of human habitation at all, but did have a large pit containing sacrificial animal bones, mainly oxen skulls. There are also three post holes behind a partition wall which are thought to have been where the idols of the gods stood.

 Such temples are well attested in historical sources. Bede says that King Rædwald kept a temple with shrines to the old gods. Elsewhere Bede recounts the story of Coifi the pagan priest in Northumbria who defiled a temple, and he also says that the Christian King Earconbert of Kent destroyed many temples and idols in 640AD. A letter from Pope Gregory to Abbot Mellitus, written in 601AD, requests that the temples of the English idols are not to be destroyed, but instead only the idols destroyed and replaced with altars, holy water and relics, which means early church buildings may originally have been pagan temples. The idols were most likely made of wood and then decorated but none survive in the archaeological record, but such idols have been found in Celtic and Nordic contexts and are also attested among Slavic and Baltic pagans.

Art by Robert Molyneaux