Saint & Goddess

1100 words / 6 minutes

The Goddess of the Grove is the patron saint of Buxton’s thermal mineral water.

Since at least 75 CE, when the Romans first occupied the area now known as Buxton, the waters that have flowed here have had religious connotations which have, in part, helped bolster the reputation of the town and its waters. This blog shall explore the gods and goddesses of old, as well as the more recent saints, and how their attributes and reputations have helped to bolster Buxton as a spa town.

The most enduring goddess from our town’s past is Arnemetia (also recorded as Arnementia). It is unclear whether she was a Celtic goddess or a Romano-British goddess but archaeological evidence from the Roman period proves that she was a strong central figure of worship when the Romans were settled in Buxton (75-410 CE). This confusion may come from the fact that Romans often amalgamated pre-existing gods and goddesses into their own faith, which blurs the distinct origin of many of the old gods throughout Europe. The archaeological evidence of Roman worship of Arnemetia includes 228 Roman coins that were found on the site of the current Natural Mineral Baths in the 1970’s that were originally thrown into the waters as a gift, an altar to Arnemetia (currently in Buxton Museum’s collection), and the name of the Roman settlement here. The settlement was called Aquae Arnemetiae.

The name Arnemetia is of Celtic origin, with ‘are’ meaning against/beside and ‘nemeton’ meaning sacred grove; Aquae Arnemetia means ‘waters beside the sacred grove’. The goddess Arnemetia was believed to govern all bodies of water, including springs, and was associated with healing, cleansing and purification. A goddess of similar etymology and worship is Nemetona (meaning ‘she of the sacred grove’), who was mainly worshiped in Roman-occupied France and Germany. We know that worship of Nemetona was also practised in England as there was an altar dedicated to her in Bath. The Romans called Bath Aqua Sulis, naming the settlement for the importance of the water to flow there; Buxton was the only other settlement in England that the Romans named for the water.

As the Romans amalgamated gods and goddesses from the religions they encountered as the conquered their way through Europe, it is highly likely that Arnemetia was not the only deity worshipped in Roman Buxton. Roman houses often contained small shrines and altars to various gods to protect their homes and families. Such gods included Janus (a two-faced god who would guard the home), Juno (a goddess who protected women), and Saturn (the god of seed-sowing), whose worship was vital to Romans living in rural areas.

Whilst the Roman amalgamated many pagan gods into their religion, they were also the ones who legalized the practise of Christianity in Western Europe. We all know of the Roman cruelty towards Christians, most famously in the staged fights between Christians and lions in the Colosseum in Rome, but this was stopped in 313 CE when Christianity as a religion was accepted in the Roman Empire. The reason for this sudden acceptance was the conversion of the Emperor Constantine in 312 CE, although he was not baptised until he on his deathbed in 337 CE.

Saint Ann, the saint now associated with Buxton’s waters and well, was first mentioned in scripture around 150 CE. She is the mother of Mary in the Bible and was first named in the New Testament Gospel of James; there is a reference to the mother of Mary in the Qu’ran but no name is given. However, it was only in the eight century that veneration of Saint Ann truly begins in Western Europe with depictions of her on a fresco at the church of Santa Maria Antiqua in Rome and the celebration of her feast day (26th July) in ninth century Italy. By the twelfth century, worship of St Ann had spread throughout Western Europe to England with the earliest surviving English text mentioning St Ann written in the 1130’s.

Saint Ann is the patroness of many things including mothers, grandmother, women wanting to get pregnant, educators and miners to name a few. Since Buxton and the surrounding area has been mined near-continuously since the Roman period, it is understandable that the area would want a saint to protect them from the perils of their work.

The first written mention of St Anne in association with Buxton is in 1460. The oldest building Buxton is named for Saint Ann, Saint Ann’s Church on Bath Road. Whilst an inscription on the building reading ‘1625’, it is believed that parts of the building are much older than this and that the construction of the church coincides with this first written reference linking Saint Ann to the town.

The link between Saint Ann to the well had aided Buxton’s growth as a spa town and added to the legacy of its healing waters. In 1635, Thomas Hobbes’ 1636 work, De Mirabilibus Pecci: Being the Wonders of the Peak in Darby-Shire exemplifies this link:

When at fam’d Buxton’s hot bath we alight.

Unto St. Ann the Fountain sacred it:

With waters hot and cold its sources rise, 

And in its Sulphur-veins there’s med’cine lies.

This cures the Palsied members of the old, 

And cherishes the Nerves grown stiff and cold, 

Crutches the Lame unto its brink convey, 

Returning the ungrates fling them away. 

The Barren hither to be fruitful come, 

And without the help of Spouse, go pregnant home.”

In these two final lines do we really see the influence of St Ann on the waters and their popularity through the promise of fertility, fitting for a saint associated with motherhood and fertility. Moving through the centuries, upon the completion of The Crescent in 1789, the hotel in the east wing of the building was named St Ann’s Hotel and the rocky outcropping opposite, known as St Ann’s Cliff, was landscaped and renamed ‘The Slopes’. From the Crescent’s opening, many people came here for the water treatments from St Ann’s Well. 

St Ann and Arnemetia have attributed much to Buxton, its history and perception of the waters. In the times of Arnemetia, the waters were a way to bring down her blessings and be closer to the gods. In subsequent centuries, the appeal of St Ann and the waters brought people to the town for its healing water treatments which helped Buxton establish its spa-town legacy that it still enjoys today. To learn more about the history of the town and the role that Ann and Arnemetia have played, visit the Buxton Crescent Heritage Experience, which you can book online or by coming to visit us in the Pump Room!

Roman Milestone found at Silverlands. Image courtesy of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

We’ve been inspiring people with Buxton’s heritage since 2019.

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tells the stories of Buxton, The Crescent, its famous water and the many people who came to seek its cure. Click here to read more.

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