LITTLEDEAN ROMAN TEMPLE AND NYMPHAEUM
Welcome to the Littledean Roman Temple. The artistic reconstruction drawn by Mr Anthony Beeson is for illustrative purposes based on the evidence provided by the ground plan of the wall foundations. The scale of the building is a reflection of the width of the foundations which range from 1.2 metres to 1.5 metres, suggesting large scale and height. Architectural remains of column drums and huge building blocks allow an interpretation for classical features. The distribution of flooring tesserae, roof tile, nails, pottery and glass provide compelling evidence for a peristyle courtyard, while the evidence from the water features confirms the open central area was a formal pool fed by piped water from springs, with added special effects of rain water cascading from the roofs, as if curtains of water, during wet periods and thunderstorms.
Academics have struggled with interpretation for years. Was the building a temple or a nymphaeum? An almost complete lack of Roman votive material has been taken to mitigate against a temple interpretation, whilst the certain evidence for a sequence of pools representing evolving phases of a water shrine, provides clear and certain proof for earlier structures which can be identified as fana (shrines or temples). Following a searching analysis of all the evidences it can be seen that with regard to the lack of votive material, although Archaeologists have to pursue evidence based interpretations, the adage “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” is a sound argument here. The evidence for a formal pool makes the building remarkable and is thoroughly consistent with a nymphaeum, while its western large apse housing a shrine (the aedicula) and flanking wall niches, is architectural treatment thoroughly consistent with a temple.
Clear evidence which indicates significant and indeed major alterations from the later 4th century, probably through into the 5th century and certainly beyond, with a late wooden building in the centre of the structure, is explained as a result of conversion by Christians. It is the argument for a long period of Christian use which explains the lack of votive material, ‘cleansed’ from the building and site.
Thus an academic consensus can now be reached. The Littledean Roman site is indeed a temple, embracing the fundamental sacred element of water from the earliest times, which element was manifest in the Roman mindset through expression as a nymphaeum. The Temple probably embraced three elements, the entrance court as a public place, the nymphaeum court as a functional place and the cella as a restricted sacred place.
The Littledean Temple represents the apotheosis of pagan water worship with origins and a continuity since the Neolithic period. Professor Miranda Aldhouse – Green identifies the site as a Celtic healing water shrine for eye ailments and may have been on an ancient pilgrimage route running between temples such as Lydney. Mr Bryn Walters identifies the Roman temple as a healing water shrine continuing its long Celtic tradition. This remarkable continuity will be described in the pages of this website.