Christianisation and the afterlife of pagan open-air cult sites: Evidence from the northern Frankish frontier

B.J. Groenewoudt, Roy van Beek, Michel Groothedde

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In this article we try to explain why some pagan open-air cult sites were used until the twelfth to thirteenth centuries or even later, long after the introduction of Christianity (sixth to eighth centuries) in what are now the Netherlands. To reconstruct the Christianization process we link Milis’ 1986 model of phased Christianization with archaeological data. Findings are mainly compared to contemporary Anglo-Saxon England. As a result of sociocultural, geopolitical and demographic differences reuse patterns turn out to be regionally diverse. Unlike Anglo-Saxon England Christian re-use of pagan cult sites appears to have been very rare. Probably this is because in the large parts of Netherlands Christianization was enforced: conversion was part of aggressive Frankish expansion culminating in the ‘Saxon Wars’. Christianity’s conquest was far from uncontested and the frontier zone changed hands several times. During this period there is some archaeological evidence of both competition and pagan revival. The fact that some pagan (pre-Christian) open-air cult sites continued to function as such until long after the introduction of Christianity, is in accordance with Milis’ opinion that Christianisation is not an act but a dynamic and long lasting ‘persuasion process’. By verifying and supplementing historical sources archaeological information may significantly contribute to our understanding of Christianisation
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-27
JournalMedieval and Modern Matters
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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