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Quest for Saxon Cathedral

23 September 2016


Ancient site: plan showing that the enclosures of Julian Bower embanked platform resemble Brancaster Roman Fort, suggesting that earthworks were in existence before the enclosures

Ancient site: plan showing that the enclosures of Julian Bower embanked platform resemble Brancaster Roman Fort, suggesting that earthworks were in ex...

A CAMPAIGN has been launched to save a site that is said to be the location of an Anglo-Saxon cathedral lost for more than a millennium.

Developers plan four bungalows on a hilltop overlooking the market town of Louth, in Lincolnshire, but opponents believe that it was once Sidnacester, the seat of the ancient Bishops of Lindsey, sacked by Danes in the ninth century. “We are in danger of losing what could be one of the most important ecclesiastic sites in the country,” the campaign leader, Prisca Furlong, said.

The exact location of the Church of the Twelve Apostles and its surrounding settlement is unknown, and four other places in the county — Caistor, Horncastle, Lincoln, and Stow — all lay claim.

There was an increasing volume of evidence to support Louth’s case, Mrs Furlong said, but heritage officials at Lincolnshire County Council were doubtful. A survey of the site for the developers by Allen Archaeology, a commercial group, failed to find any significant artefacts.

The recent discovery of a hewn stone beside a Roman brick fits with existing knowledge that Saxon buildings such as Sidnacester were often built on Roman ruins, Mrs Furlong said. The site, known as Julian Bower, commands ancient trails, Roman roads, and two rivers, which were all routes to important salt workings on the North Sea coast.

Mrs Furlong believes that administrators in Rome would have established a settlement at the site to guard and control the lucrative trade.

She suggests that Theodore of Tarsus, the Archbishop of Canterbury who founded Sidnacester in about 678, chose Louth as the seat of the Bishops of Lindsey because it had formerly been the site of one of the first Roman cathedrals located at Civitate Colonia Londinensium: another much speculated about but unknown location.She has found aerial photographs that seem to show crop marks of a building with an apse. “My first thought was that this could have been a Roman basilica that, around 250 years after the Romans left, was rebuilt using some of the masonry from its crumbling walls for the cathedral of the Bishops of Lindsey,” Mrs Furlong said.

Louth was a centre of pilgrimage to the tomb of St Herefrith, thought to be the last Bishop of Lindsey, martyred by the Danes in about 873. But its importance declined in the tenth century, after his remains were taken to Thorney Abbey in Cambridgeshire.

The development is due to be discussed by East Lindsey District Council this autumn, but Mrs Furlong is leading a bid to buy the site, and, after further archaeological research, use it as public open space.

The director of Allen Archaeology, Chris Clay, said: “The work we carried out on this site was completed to the highest professional standards. “The report on the archaeological evaluation trenching has been accepted by Lincolnshire County Council and East Lindsey District Council, and has also been reviewed and approved by Historic England.”

As far as this company is concerned, at present there is no further archaeological requirement for this site, and this brings our involvement in the scheme to a close.”

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