The Temple to the goddess Sulis Minerva was the focal point of worship in Aquae Sulis and the courtyard was the sacred space surrounding it.
The Temple at Bath was built in a classical style and is unusual in Britain as only one other truly classical temple – the temple of Claudius at Colchester – is known. It dates to the later first century AD. The Bath Temple stood on a podium more than two metres above the surrounding courtyard. It was approached by a flight of steps with four large, fluted Corinthian columns supporting a frieze and decorated pediment above. Behind the columns was a large door to the cellar where the cult statue of the goddess was kept. This room would have been dimly lit without windows, with the only light coming through the doorway and from the Temple fire burning before the cult statue.
In the later 2nd century the Temple was modified by the addition of small side chapels and the construction of an ambulatory around it. These changes coincided with the enclosure of the Sacred Spring within a new building and may reflect a change in ritual practice here.
The Temple remained a focal point for worship until late in the 4th century AD. As Christianity gathered strength, the old pagan religion was marginalised and in 391 AD the Emperor Theodosius ordered the closure of pagan temples throughout the Empire. The Temple fell into a state of disrepair and eventually collapsed. Some of the carved stones from the Pediment were re-used as paving slabs in the courtyard and their chance survival has helped us build a picture of one of Roman Britain’s most remarkable religious buildings.
The Temple Courtyard
This was a place of worship and sacrifice where ceremonies took place around the great altar that formed a ritual focus in front of the Temple. The courtyard was contained within a colonnaded perimeter wall. In one corner the Sacred Spring poured out a supply of hot water that was more than enough to serve the huge baths complex to the south. Another building, known as the Four Seasons from the decoration of its facade, was built on the north side of the courtyard. The space was cluttered with altars placed near the Temple by worshippers.