Minerva's Shrine – Chester, England - Atlas Obscura
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Chester, England

Minerva's Shrine

The last outdoor Roman shrine in Western Europe sits in an unassuming park once frequented by ancient quarrymen. 

It may look like a hobbit house, but this old, weathered rock was actually the site of ancient Roman worship. It’s where quarrymen came to honor Minerva, the Roman equivalent of the Greek Athena, goddess of war, art, wisdom, and craftsmen. It was probably out of respect for this latter attribute that laborers carved a shrine to her out of the natural rock nearly 2,000 years ago.

The shrine sits in Edgar’s Field, now a quiet 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 prayed for success and safety in the course of their grueling, risky labor. 

Such shrines were not uncommon in the ancient world, but a combination of the intervening centuries and collectors have claimed nearly all of them—this is the last outdoor Roman shrine in Western Europe which remains in its original location. It’s a bit the worse for wear: Weather and vandalism have worn off all the paint and nearly all the details which once adorned the figure of Minerva. A careful eye, though, can still discern her figure holding a spear and wearing a helmet, an owl over her shoulder on the right. The stone columns and awning over the shrine are a 19th-century addition, placed there in the hopes of warding off further damage. 

To the right of the shrine is a small barred opening known as Edgar’s Cave. It, like the park in which it sits, is named for King Edgar the Peaceable, who held a council in or near the field 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 an embellishment, it has remained a popular, romantic image associated with Chester. 

Know Before You Go

From Chester proper, follow the Old Dee Bridge across the river. Edgar's Field is on the right, just past the Ship Inn. The shrine can be seen on the side of the low rock outcropping which rises in the middle of the field.

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