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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Somerset

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Gorgons head
Gorgon head in the Roman Baths, showing Celtic and Roman influences

© Courtesy of Bath and North East Somerset Council
Roman Bath's Celtic acquisition

A Celtic goddess

The hot springs over which the city of Bath is built have probably existed for thousands of years. Before the Roman's arrived in Britain, the oak-tree lined grove with its bubbling orange-tinged waters was a spot held sacred by the Celts. They believed the hot spring, with its rich, mineral properties, was the work of the deity Sul, the Celtic goddess associated with medicine, fertility and healing. Celtic coins found at the spring's site prove that people used the spring as a means of communicating with Sul, leaving offerings in the hope of the obtaining the goddess's good fortune.

Drawing of a spring
How the spring may have looked in Celtic times
© Courtesy of Bath and North East Somerset Council
The date of the hot spring's discovery and its development into a sacred site has been lost in time and could have happened as many as 10,000 years ago. However, one legend which has persisted attributes the spring?s discovery to the Celtic King Bladud. The eldest son of King Lud, Bladud was banished from his father's court when he contracted leprosy.

One day, the exiled son, who had become a swineherd to survive, watched as his pigs wallowed in a particular muddy spot. The mud has the miraculous effect of improving the condition of their skin. Ever hopeful, he wallowed in the mud and was amazed to find his leprosy cured. Healed, Bladud returned to court and succeeded his father as King and in gratitude he formed a temple at the hot spring in honour of the goddess Sul. Legend also has it that the most famous of Bladud's sons, King Lear, is believed to have committed suicide by throwing himself off the temple.

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