Chester, England. The Minerva’s Shrine.3 min read
It may seems a hobbit house, but this old, weathered rock was the site of ancient Roman worship. Here quarrymen came to honor Minerva, the Roman equivalent of the Greek Athena and goddess of war, art, wisdom and manual and technical skills, and in Britain she was invoked as an aquatic goddess.
The shrine is located in Edgar’s Field, now a quiet and green park on the banks of the River Dee, but once a massive quarry where workers excavated and carried off the huge blocks of sandstone used to build Chester’s Roman wall. Here, before their shrine, quarrymen made offerings, and of course prayed for success and safety fot their grueling and risky labor. In Roman times an offering was placed in the center of an altar carved in the bottom left corner, to ask protection during the crossing of the river Dee at the ford. In fact, it seems that the old Roman road passed in front of the shrine.
Similar shrines were not rare in the ancient world, but a combination of the centuries, bad weather and collectors have destroyed or claimed nearly all of them. This is the last outdoor Roman shrine in Western Europe which remains in its original place, even if weather and vandalism have worn off all the paint and nearly all the details which once decorated Minerva. A very observant, though, can still see the god holding a spear and wear a helmet, with an owl over her shoulder on the right, which is said to represent wisdom. The stone columns and awning over the shrine are there since 19th-century, placed in the hopes of warding off further damage.
To the right of the shrine is a small barred opening, named Edgar’s Cave that, like the park in which it is located, is named for King Edgar the Peaceable, who held a council near the current park in the year 973. He is said to have received homage there from the lesser kings of the island. Later writers described a fanciful scene of Edgar being rowed up the Dee by eight princes: while that’s almost certainly a myth, it has remained a popular, romantic image associated with Chester.