A FORMER Anglican church in the corner of a Shropshire field could be one of the oldest sacred sites still in use in Britain.
An archaeological dig at the former Church of St John the Baptist, Sutton, Shrewsbury, has unearthed evidence that links it to a 4000-year-old Neolithic-ritual site near by, which was discovered during the 1960s. The present church dates from medieval times, but is known to have been built on the site of a seventh-century Saxon church. So experts were “shocked” when a 15-inch wooden post, excavated in February, was carbon-dated to 2033 BC.
“We thought we had found a Saxon post that formed part of an earlier church among the medieval foundations,” said Janey Green, the owner of Baskerville Archaeological Services, which carried out the dig.
“What we actually have is a sacred site dating back over 4000 years. It appears that the current medieval church is built over the site of an ancient pagan burial-ground that has been in use from the late Neolithic period through Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman, and Anglo-Saxon times, to today.
The findings, she said, indicated that this special place had been honoured by our ancestors, from at least 2000 years before Christ. “All this was being built and used at the same time as the ancient Egyptians were building pyramids for their pharaohs. What makes this site different is the continuity of ritual practice in one form or other.”
Fifty years ago, in excavations on a neighbouring site, which today is part of a housing estate, Neolithic and Bronze Age burial mounds and cremations were discovered. Archaeologists also found slots for standing stones, two rows of post-holes, and a ditch that they interpreted as being a processional walkway, extending towards the present church.
Over the years, the building has had different uses, including farm storage. In 1994, it was sold in poor condition for £50 to the Greek Orthodox community, which restored it and renamed it the Church of the Holy Fathers of Nicaea. Their priest, Fr Stephen Maxfield, said: “Who would have thought that this little church would turn out to have a history of great significance? “From the moment we first saw this building as a crumbling ruin, full of farmer’s clutter, we thought it was very special. Now we know that it is.”