William Dargue A History of BIRMINGHAM Places & Placenames from A to Y
Church Hill, Frankley B32 - Grid reference SO998804
Church Hill, Handsworth B20 - Grid reference SP060901
Church Hill, Northfield B30 - Grid reference SP025793
Church Hill, Sutton Coldfield B72 - Grid reference SP121962
The siting of a church on a hill was a common practice from the later Anglo-Saxon period in this country; example are to be found from that time up to the great spate of church building of the Victorian period. The practice clearly has to do with making a statement about the presence of the Church in a community and serves the same purpose as church towers and the addition of a spire. But it is also related to pre-Christian practices.
The Anglo-Saxons set up their pagan religious sites in a variety of locations, and some of these were on prominent hill tops. One such may have been at Weoley. In 601 AD Pope Gregory wrote to Abbot Mellitus who was setting out to join St Augustine's band of missionaries to England. He gave him advice on how to deal with pagan places of worship:
The temples of the idols should not destroyed; but let the idols that are in them be destroyed; let holy water be made and sprinkled in the said temples, let altars be erected, and relics placed. For if those temples are well built, it is requisite that they be converted from the worship of devils to the service of the true God; that the nation, seeing that their temples are not destroyed, may remove error from their hearts, and knowing and adoring the true God, may the more familiarly resort to the places to which they have been accustomed. For there is no doubt that it is impossible to efface everything at once from their obdurate minds; because he who endeavours to ascend to the highest place, rises by degrees or steps, and not by leaps.
The Venerable Bede 731 AD Ecclesiastical History of the English People Book 1, translated from Latin. Edited
There are no church buildings in Birmingham that can definitely be dated back to Anglo-Saxon times, but it may well be that there are ancient churches in Birmingham which do stand on pre-Christian religious sites.
Church Hill, Frankley
For 19th-century Ordnance Survey maps of Birmingham go to British History Online.
Church Hill, Handsworth
Church Hill, Northfield
Church Hill, Sutton Coldfield
Below left to right:
Church Hill Handsworth, Church Hill Northfield, Church Hill Sutton Coldfield. Click on the image for Acknowledgements.
William Dargue 01.08.2010