This is the medieval, 12th C. Augustinian priory in the corner of the Antique Roman fort in Portchester, England. Dating from the 3rd Century AD, the fort in Porthester is the best preserved Roman fortification in Britain. Regularly planned, it overlooks the waters of the English channel – legionaries stationed here were given the task to protect the coasts of Britain from barbarian raids and pirates. Together with other similar outposts, Portchester was meant to keep shipping routes connecting Britain with Gaul and the rest of the empire open. It fulfilled that role for approximately 100 years when, after periods of revolts and invasions, Rome lost its authority over Britain. The fort, however, does not seem to have ever been abandoned. Instead, it found new masters and eventually, its walls were made to serve a prestigious, Anglo-Saxon residence. When that power waned as well, Portchester was taken by the Normans who converted the ancient fort into a castle. A powerful keep was built in one of the corners of the fort (that’s from where the photo was taken) and Augustinian monks were given the land opposite to it.
After more than 800 years since the fort was built, it may seem that there was nothing Roman left about the site – just an empty shell of walls used by different warlords or knights. However, if one would look closely at the Romanesque portal of Augustinian priory today, one would discern barely visible outline of a centaur holding a bow and a pair of fish swirling one behind the other. These are the ancient symbols of the zodiac used in calendars ever since the time of ancient Greece and Rome. The centaur a creature of the Antique, remained part of medieval imagination just as numerous Antique texts of Aristotle, Boetius, Cicero, Augustine and others were still kept and read in monastic libraries. Though Roman empire fell in the West, its culture survived and, together with the centaur, returned to Portchester.