Shropshire History


Christian Religion


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Prehistoric Religion

Celtic Religion

Roman Religion

Saxon Religion

Danish Religion

Christian Religion



Timeline of Christianity


1st Century AD - It is believed that Christianity first arrived in Britain when visiting traders spread the story of Jesus along with stories of their pagan deities. 


305 - A Roman soldier called Alban was martyred for sheltering a Christian priest and became the first British saint. 


312 - The Roman Emperor Constantine was converted to Christianity and a number of Romans and Britons became Christian.  Where Roman influence was weak, like in rural Shropshire, the old druidic beliefs survived.


408 - Christianity was still a minority faith and, when the Romans left, many Christians fled to Wales away from the invading Anglo Saxons. Their religious practices became known as the Celtic Church.


563 – Columba came from Ireland to the island of Iona and preached in western Scotland.


597 – Augustine and a party of monks were sent by Pope Gregory I at the request of King Aethelbert of Kent.  Augustine became the first Archbishop of Canterbury and began to spread Christianity in Southern England. Pope Gregory gave the following instruction “I have come to the conclusion that the temples of the idols in England should not on any account be destroyed. Augustine must smash the idols but the temples themselves should be sprinkled with holy water and altars set up in them in which relics are to be enclosed. For we ought to take advantage of well-built temples by purifying them from devil-worship and dedicating them to the service of the true God.” Their religious practices became known as the Roman Church.


601 - Augustine baptized the first Christian Anglo-Saxon king, Aethelberht of Kent.


616 - Aethelbert of Kent died. The kingdom of Kent and the associated Anglo-Saxon kingdoms which Kent had had influence over relapsed into paganism for several decades.


635 – Aiden was sent from Iona to Northumbria, where King Oswald wanted the people to be converted to Christianity, and built Lindisfarne Abbey.


642 – The Christian King Oswald of Northumbria was killed at the Battle of Maserfield near Oswestry by the pagan King Penda.


655 - After King Penda's death, Mercia was converted to Christianity and all the kings who ruled thereafter were Christian.


686 – Arwald, the last pagan Anglo-Saxon king, died.


664 – At the Synod of Whitby, all of the Saxon kings decided to follow Roman rather than Celtic practices.  The differences between the two types of church seem minor but at the time were fiercely argued, ie

·        difference between determining the date of Easter

·        different baptism techniques

·        the Roman tonsure was formed by shaving the top of the head and leaving a circle of hair around it. The Celtic tonsure was formed by shaving all of the hair in front of a line drawn over the top of the head from ear to ear

·        the Celtic church allowed the consecration of a bishop by another single bishop rather than the three required by the Roman church

·        the churches and monasteries of the Celtic communities were not named after departed saints but after their living founders

·        there were minor differences between the Liturgy and Ritual of the Mass.


793 - Vikings destroyed Lindisfarne Abbey. Monks were either killed in the abbey, thrown into the sea to drown or carried away as slaves, along with the church treasures. The Northumbrian scholar Alcuin of York wrote: "Never before in Britain has such a terror appeared".


878 – At the Treaty of Wedmore, the Viking leader Guthrum agreed to accept Christianity, with Alfred of Wessex as his godfather.  Alfred in turn recognised Guthrum as the king of East Anglia.


1534 – Act of Supremacy passed making Henry VIII supreme head of the Church of England and thus separating it from the control of the Pope in Rome.


1536 - Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries Act passed and many Roman Catholic abbeys and monasteries destroyed.


18th Century – various non-conformist religious movements were formed such as Methodists, Baptists, etc.




A Church Near You


Churches Conservation Trust


Grade I Listed Churches in Shropshire


Religion in Medieval & Tudor Shropshire


Sheela-na-Gig Project


Shropshire Churches Tourism Group




Gazetteer of Sites


Whereas most of the early religious sites and artifacts have disappeared, Christian remains are quite numerous, probably because it is still the majority religion.




Many of the early churches were constructed of wood with wattle and daub walls, thus they have not survived.  A few were built of stone and most of these are now protected as Scheduled Monuments. See links below for a list and description of such sites plus later ones.




There have been a number of abbeys and other religious establishments built in Shropshire but most did not survive the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  A list of them, plus a description of the various religious orders that occupied them, can be found HERE.



These are stone carvings of naked women displaying exaggerated genitals and the name comes from Ireland where they are quite common. Some are found on churches, although they also occur on castles and other buildings. They are often made of a different material to the church structure and this is probably because they were incorporated from an earlier pagan building. Even though the image is overtly sexual, the representation is always grotesque and sometimes even comical. They are usually associated with old women and some carvings have ribs showing on the torso and sometimes facial scaring as well. One theory suggests that they ward off death and evil, in a similar way to gargoyles, and that they are positioned over doors or windows to protect these openings. Another theory, perhaps more likely, is that they were fertility symbols used by girls who walked under them. There is a Sheela-na-Gig website that describes them in more detail.  In Shropshire they have been found at five sites, all in the south of the country :-


Church Stretton (SO452936)



On the north face of St Laurence’s Church, over an old Norman doorway. It is very worn but appears to be a standing figure.


Cleobury Mortimer (SO673757)



Set into the front wall of the churchyard of St Mary's Church. Appears to be a seated figure with bent arms, facing the main road through the village.


Diddlebury (SO508853)




Two figures on the wall of St Peter’s Church. Both appear to have been damaged in the past by having parts broken off. One is the lower half of a torso with the top of two legs and the other is just the upper body.


Holdgate (SO561895)



On the south facing wall of Holy Trinity Church over a small doorway. It is crouching with a hand holding the genitals.


Tugford (SO557870)




Two figures inside St Catherine’s Church on either side of the main door. The one on the right is squatting with a tongue protruding and both hands gesturing to the genitals. The one on the left is lying down on its left side.


Stone Crosses


Many stone crosses were set up by the Saxons from the 8th Century onwards, although the practice reduced after the Norman invasion. They can be identified by the circular halo surrounding the cross element. The crosses were often used to mark points where paths intersected, though they were later used as a gathering place for religious ceremonies. It is possible that they may have been put up at sites which were already regarded as sacred in pagan worship. A list of crosses in Shropshire can be seen on the Heritage Gateway website.