Saturday, 31 October 2015
Imagine you'd had something stolen, say a cloak or a bathing tunic (the Roman equivalent of a swimming costume), and you suspect you know who has it. There's no formal police force, so what do you do? You engage a scribe to write the accusation onto one of these squares, including the name of the accused, then you fold it up and throw it into the sacred spring with an offering to the goddess.
The goddess in question at Bath was Minerva Sulis. That's a combination of a Celtic deity - Sulis, the Celtic goddess of healing, and her Roman equivalent Minerva.
Bath has the only naturally thermal spring in the UK. It was recognised as a place of healing from about 1000 - 800 BCE. A Celtic lord called Bladud went traveling and caught leprosy. As a result he was ostracised, but managed to find work as a swine herd. Sadly, pigs are also prone to leprosy and they soon were suffering too.
Then one day Bladud and his pigs passed an area in the valley of the Avon (Afon is, of course, the Celtic word for river) and one of the pigs began wallowing in the warm mud of a spring. A few days later Bladud noticed that the pig's leprosy sores were clearing up, so he returned and bathed in the spring himself. Following his 'miraculous' recovery he decided the place was holy, and dedicated it to the Celtic goddess Sulis because of its healing power.
Around 900 years later, when the Romans arrived, they adopted the spring and called it Aquae Sulis - the waters of Sulis - and it became a Roman resort.
And it's been a resort and a place to "take the waters" ever since.