Sacred Wonders of Britain

Sacred Wonders of Britain (BBC, 2013)

Archeologist Neil Oliver sets off on a journey to reveal the sacred face of Britain, an ancient landscape of belief and ritual that lies hidden just below the surface of the modern world. From Britain’s remotest islands to the heart of its cities, Neil searches for clues that tell us how these wonders came to be. What was it about Britain’s rich and varied landscape that inspired people to express their beliefs by reshaping the world around them? What did they see that led them to deem some places more sacred than others? And why are we still drawn back to those places today? (Knowledge)

Sacred_Britain

I’ve watched several Neil Oliver documentaries about ancient Britain and northern Europe, and this short 3-episode program did not disappoint. Although short, it covers the Stone Age up to the Reformation in England, discussing the way ancient people worshipped the land, honoured their dead, and merged (or hid) their beliefs when necessary. Well-known scholars, such as Ronald Hutton and Barry Cunliffe, feature quite extensively throughout the program.

I’ve always found the history of religion fascinating, and this series explores the depth and meaning of our existence. Sacred sites provided a common gathering place to worship and reflect, and early sacred sites were absorbed by the new religions of invading tribes and changing beliefs. Early people tried to give context and find an explanation of why things happened, something seekers still do today.

Episode 1:

  • Covers the Neolithic Stone Age
  • Burial mounds, chamber tombs, long barrows (e.g., Wayland Smithy)
  • Introduction of stone circles (e.g., Avebury)
  • Neolithic structures on Orkney Islands (e.g., Maeshowe, Stenness Standing Stones, Ring of Brodgar, Skara Brae)

Orkney_KAP_Ring_of_Brodgar

Episode 2:

  • Covers the Bronze Age and Iron Age, right through to the Roman invasion
  • Hill forts for protection from warring tribes (e.g., Maiden Castle)
  • First cemeteries, priests, class systems
  • Age of the Celts, and Druids in Anglesey
  • Merging of Celtic and Roman culture (e.g., Bath)
  • Rise of Christianity, end of paganism

Maiden Castle

Episode 3:

  • Covers the Middle (“Dark”) Ages, Viking Invasions, and up to the Reformation
  • Rise of law and order, and monastic culture (e.g., Iona, Lindisfarne)
  • Illuminated manuscripts (e.g., Lindisfarne Gospels)
  • Creation of first saints (e.g., Columba, Aidan) and martyrs (e.g., Thomas Beckett)
  • Holy centres of Canterbury and Glastonbury, later converted to Anglican
  • King Arthur, the Holy Grail and Avalon at Glastonbury Tor

Glastonbury Tor 466AD

© The New Pagan (2016)

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