The Temple of Claudius was the largest temple building in Roman Britain, an indication of Colchester’s status and the focus for the worship of the emperor and his successors. A temple already existed at the time of the revolt of Queen Boudica in AD 60 and it is referred to in the historical account of the destruction of the town. Today, only the foundations of the original temple survive below Colchester Castle.
The inside of the temple was reserved for priests to worship the spirit of the emperor; everyone else would have gathered outside in a large enclosed space known as the precinct. It is likely the precinct would have housed a statue of Claudius and an altar, approached through a monumental arch.
At the end of the Roman period, the temple may have been used as a Christian church before it fell into disuse. The whole site was largely abandoned for centuries, although shortly before the Norman Conquest a Saxon chapel was constructed among the ruins. The Normans recognised the importance of the temple site, both as a legacy of an ancient past and as an excellent location for their castle as they realised they could use the existing foundations. Today, these remains – the Vaults, as they became known in the eighteenth century – can be visited on guided tours of Colchester Castle.
Founded between 1093 and 1100, the priory of St Botolph was one of the first religious houses in England to adopt Augustinian rule. It is located on the south-facing slope of a small valley outside Colchester's south-east gateway. It was preceded by an earlier church, which was served by a community of secular canons. The priory church, built in the 12th century (and dedicated in 1177), survives above ground, and there are also below-ground remains of cloistral buildings. The west front contains the traces of the earliest major round window in England, dating from around 1150. The extent of the precinct has not been accurately established.
The site is open to the public, and managed by Colchester Borough Council. More information about visiting St Botolph's Priory is available from the English Heritage website.
Described by Pevsner as 'the most remarkable Norman church in the county', the church of St Michael and All Angels is home to some of the best-preserved Norman wall paintings in Britain.
The church was built around 1125-1130, probably as a chapel by the Bishops of London. The whole church was originally vaulted, and the apse still is - Norman vaults in parish churches are extremely rare in England.
The 'Danes skin' from the north door has recently been re-examined and confirmed as human.
In the apse of the church are mid-12th century wall paintings, much restored, depicting St Michael and St Gabriel and 10 apostles. At the centre is a majesty with rainbow supported by angels. The nave and chancel have numerous figures with extensive decorative work and diaper motifs.
The paintings are by far the most important medieval wall paintings in Essex. They date from the same time as the church, and are comparable with contemporary paintings in St Gabriel's Chapel, Canterbury Cathedral. They have been heavily restored, particularly those in the apse (pictured) which were discovered during restoration work in 1871-2 and over-painted.
This beautiful church is just 5 minutes off the A12 to the south of Colchester, and is open to the public. To find out more about visiting, please check the church website.