We are in Kent for a week. So northernvicar is almost as far south as he can go. I’ve blogged Roman sites before, though this isn’t Hadrian’s Wall. I usually blog churches, so Lullingstone will tick that box. Saturday 5 November was a bit of a grey morning as we negotiated ourselves up narrow roads, then the M25, and to Lullingstone Roman Villa – website. It has been many years since we’ve been here, and the English Heritage site has had a makeover (a very good one). There is disability access all through, so we started with a trip upstairs to watch a film show. “The nearest you can walk to Roman Britain” is a bit of an exaggeration, but otherwise. They show the film and use light to pinpoint what it is you’re actually supposed to be looking at.
The mosaics are special, and it is a shame the paintings are in the British Museum. There is a good piece on Roman religion on the EH website, with a picture of the wall paintings.
I remember the pictures by Alan Sorrell from many of my archaeological visits as a teenager and student. This picture he did of Lullingstone is taken from this website – a project which last posted in 2011.
The current displays are attractive, and there are lots of things to look at. If we had grandchildren, there would be a lot for them to do!
The earliest house here was built about 100 AD. A bath suite and northern range was added about 200. There was a deep room which seems to have been the focus for worship of a water cult.
Later a house church was created in a room above – although it seems as if the cult continued for a while (one member of the family holding on to the old religion?). Fragments of painted wall plaster were found, and the chi rho painting, with alpha and omega (Revelation 22.13) is now in the British Museum. There are also six figures with their hands raised in prayer.
The EH guidebook says “The house-church is a unique discovery for Roman Britain and the wall paintings are of international importance. They not only provide some of the earliest evidence for Christianity in Britain, but are almost unique – the closest parallels come from a house-church in Dura Europos, Syria.” I have just done some research, and it seems as if this Syrian site has been destroyed by the so-called Islamic State.
The mosaics in the audience chamber date to about 360 AD. They provide a visible expression of the wealth and good taste of the owners. The main panel tells the story of Bellerophon, prince of Corinth, on the winged-horse Pegasus, killing the chimera, a fire-breathing she-monster (I’m glad it’s a she-monster). The story is a well-known myth, but here it could also be an allegory for the triumph of good over evil – a Christian-inspired message? I also know that Bellerophon is the name of one of the oldest steam locos still steaming, currently at the Foxfield Railway I think – see this website.
The scene is surrounded by four roundels containing representations of the seasons.
The other panel tells the story of the Rape of Europa, who was abducted by Jupiter disguised as a bull. The guide has more fun trying to find a Christian meaning in the Latin.
There is a chi-rho symbol carved onto this piece of stone, probably C4.
This villa would have been part of a farming complex in the Darent Valley – there may well have been a dozen villas along the river. There was probably enough produced here to be traded down the river, perhaps even as far as London. This continued until the C5, by which time there was no standing army to feed. At some point that century there was a fire, and the villa house was abandoned.
Just behind the villa was a mausoleum, and this site seems to have become the site of a church in the C11, just before the Norman Conquest. We’ll come on to that in a moment.
It is worth mentioning that the Villa is not too far to walk from Eynsford railway station, and that’s a simple train ride out of Blackfriars and other Thameslink stations. Just down the road is an impressive red-brick viaduct. It was built by the independent Sevenoaks Railway, incorporated in 1859 to link the Chatham main line with Sevenoaks (you probably guessed that). The viaduct was open in 1862. The viaduct has nine arches of 30-foot span, and rises to a height of 75-feet above the valley. I stopped and photoed it.