Religion has played an enormous role in shaping the cultural history of the UK. It has left its mark, not just on the hearts and minds of the peoples of Britain, but on the landscapes and cityscapes that we inhabit. From towering Gothic cathedrals to the beautiful simplicity of standing hillside stones, sacred sites in the UK make some of the most exciting places to visit.
This post started off life as a list of some of the nicest churches in the UK. As research went on, however, I discovered some incredible sites that have been recognised for their religious significance for tens of thousands of years. These holy landmarks have some of the most amazing stories attached to them. Take a look below to discover some of the most ancient and fascinating religious sites in the UK.
The single lonely tower atop the magnificent hillside of Glastonbury Tor is as mysterious as it is beautiful. The tower was once part of the 14th-century church of St Michael, which was torn to pieces by an earthquake. However, the site has been significant for thousands of years. Legend has it that deep inside the hill lies a secret cave that leads to the Celtic fairy world of Annwn. Christian doctrine also holds that Jesus visited the site with his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea. The story is said to have inspired William Blake’s classic song, Jerusalem.
St Albans Cathedral
St Albans is not only a stunning example of British architecture, but also one of the oldest cathedrals in the UK. The oldest parts of the building date back as far as 1089 AD and are linked to the beginnings of Christianity in the UK. Saint Alban himself was believed to be a Roman citizen who rescued a fleeing Christian priest from the authorities. When soldiers came to claim the priest, Alban gave himself up instead and was executed on a nearby hillside.
Shrine to Minerva, Bath
Bath’s famous volcanic spas have held a religious significance since before the time of the Romans. However, around the first century AD, the site was home to an extensive temple to the Roman god Minerva. If you visit the fantastic museum there, you can see the incredible statue head of Minerva, which is over two thousand years old.
We couldn’t have a list of important religious sites without mentioning Stonehenge. Although archaeologists still don’t really know what the site was built for, to this day, it has a religious significance deeply associated with the long-lost druids and is still the site of solstice celebrations every year.
Goat’s Hole, Wales
Perhaps the most fascinating religious site on our list, and most definitely the oldest, religious activity at this natural cave in Wales has been dated at 33,000 years old. A skeleton, nicknamed the Red Lady of Paviland, was buried on the site with what appears to be considerable ceremony for the time. Exactly why she was so important remains a mystery. However, it’s one of the few remaining sites in the world that give significant insight into the lives of peoples of the distant past.
Stones of Stenness, Orkney
Possibly the oldest henge site in the British Isles, the Stones of Stenness are as mysterious as they are beautiful. They have been used in genuine religious rituals up until as recently as the 18th century. If you’d like to visit a site even more mystical than Stonehenge, make sure you visit Orkney.
To explore more of the most fascinating locations in the UK, including Windsor Castle, Salisbury Cathedral and Blenheim Palace, take a look at our fantastic range of day tours from London.