One of our day trips in the Cotswold region turned out to hold some pleasant surprises. At the Corinium Museum in Cirencester, Clay and I were surprised by how much we learned about Roman-British history, but also about a newly discovered potential secret Christian code. Later we were also surprised when taking a walk into the countryside, a local farmer’s wife told us about a small church down the rural trail that held a secret”. We were hooked. We had to go. More on that later, but first I will tell you a little about the town itself.
A lot of people refer to Cirencester as the Capital of the Cotswolds. During the Roman occupation, it had a population of about 20,000 people, and was the 2nd largest city in England behind London. The town’s Roman name was Corinium, and the earliest known reference to it was in AD150. Ironically, today it is about the same population as in Roman times. I thought that was so interesting and it tweaked my interest in finding out more about this town.
We arrived mid-morning and headed straight to the Corinium Museum, which documents the Roman history of Cirencester, or Cornium as it was known in Roman days. We learned that the Romans had arrived in Britain in 43AD, and that by 75AD the town of Corinium Dubunnorum was born. We also learned that there was an extensive public building campaign during this period of time including the 2nd largest known Roman bath, a forum complex as well as an amphitheater. The town itself was laid out in the traditional Roman style. Recently discovered Mosaic floors are on display as well.
The museum has a collection of many Roman objects which gave us an idea of what life must have been like in a Roman-British town. The gravestones provided a lot of details giving details such as age, names and places of origin, which show how cosmopolitan the town must have been. The stone altars and religious sculpture are evidence of the variety of religious beliefs practiced in the Cotswolds.
There is also the Acrostic – a Roman word square that reads the same forwards as backwards. This is one of only 11 found to date in the world and one explanation is that it holds a secret Christian code.
After a hearty lunch at a French (yes, French!) restaurant, we got a map from the Visitor Center, and headed out for an afternoon walk through the country side. While walking we met a local woman – the wife of a farmer who stopped to chat with us for a few minutes. We told her we were headed to the hamlet of Baunton. She looked a little surprised that we were going to such a small place instead of the usual tourist towns. She obviously delighted in telling us not to miss the small local church in the parish. There was a secret there we should fine. Of course, we encountered a few sheep along the country path.
Finding the church was easy since it was such a small church. I must admit that I felt a little spooky walking through grass that looked like it had not been mowed in some time – not to mention through the cemetery. When I got to the door I thought it was closed (locked), but Clay figured out that I wasn’t putting enough “push” on the door and that it was open. Subconsciously, I think I was hesitating to go in because of what the farmer’s wife has said about a secret find.
Well it didn’t take to long to discover the surprise she was referring to. The church was so small, but on the wall was as it turned out a 13th century fresco with an interesting history.
The painting was on the north wall of the small church and dates back to the 14th century. It was covered with plaster during the reformation, and was forgotten about. During the late 1800’s (1870?) it was discovered during a renovation of the church. Wow!
We left the Ciencester area very happy that we had made the drive over, and discovered some exciting surprises.