A British pagan group has appealed to the Archbishop of Canterbury to give it two church buildings to compensate it for buildings that it claims were seized as the nation turned to Christianity.

The Sunday Telegraph reports that the Odinist Fellowship wants restitution and apologies for persecution pagans suffered more than 1,000 years ago. The fellowship’s letter to Archbishop Justin Welby asks him to work to achieve a better relationship between it and U.K. churches and seeks an apology for “crimes against the Odinists” and “restitution of past wrongs.”

Ralph Harrison, director of the fellowship, told The Sunday Telegraph: “Two bishops have sent responses, which have been polite, but nothing substantial. The objective is just to get the Church to acknowledge that it has got a history of persecution when it comes to the Odinist religion and it has to take stock of that and not just write it out of history. Within the Odinist community there is a strong sense of antagonism towards the institutional Church.”

Harrison said that seventh-century Odinists were subjected to spiritual genocide as early U.K. church leaders confiscated temple grounds and converted them into churches.

According to the fellowship’s website, Odinism is an ancient indigenous form of heathen religion practiced by the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. It claims about 1,000 members.

One historian says it is hard to substantiate Odinist claims. James Palmer, a scholar of early medieval Europe at the University of St. Andrews, told The Sunday Telegraph that Odinist case relies on “letters sent by Pope Gregory in which he encouraged his missionaries to change existing temples into Christian places of worship in the hope that natives would continue to attend and be converted that way.”

“They’ve only been ancestral lands for at best 100 years before the pagans turn up, and it is most likely that any pagan temples were on old church sites,” he said. “I think it’s all a bit of tit for tat. If you can claim that the church took the land off the pagans, they had taken it off Christians to start with.”

The Church of England has declined to comment.

John Martin

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