Christianity in Britannia – an Excerpt from Early Christianity in Contexts

The following is an excerpt from Early Christianity in Contexts, edited by William Tabbernee.


Cover ArtStudies from the late twentieth century (Painter 1989; Hassall and Tomlin 1982; 1993; Watts 1991) have shown that early Christianity in Britain was more widespread, more syncretistic, and more continuous than previously thought. It was originally introduced by Britain’s Roman conquerors and viewed as a “Roman religion” by Britain’s Celtic inhabitants, who, when they converted, retained many of their Celtic traditions, practices, and symbols.

….Both Tertullian (Adv. Jud. 7.4) and Origen (Fragmenta ex commentariis in Ezechielem 4) indicate that they took it for granted that Christianity had been established in the British Isles before their own time (cf. Eusebius, Dem. ev. 3.5; Sozomen, Hist. eccl. 2.6.1). Exactly when the first Christians arrived in Britannia is, however, unknown. Legends about the apostles preaching in Britain (Eusebius, Dem. ev. 3.5) and the conversion of a British king named Lucius through correspondence with Eleutherius (i.e., Eleutherus) of Rome (bp. ca. 174/5–ca. 189) (Lib. pont. 14; cf. Bede, Hist. eccl. Angl. 1.4) are surely spurious.

St. Alban may have been martyred around 250 at Verulamium (St. Albans) during the Decian persecution (Thomas 1981, 48–50), but it is also possible that he died during the Diocletianic persecution in the early years of the fourth century. The same holds for two other martyrs, Aaron and Julius, who were put to death at Isca (Caerleon) (Gildas, Exc. Brit. 9.1; 10.2; Bede, Hist. eccl. Angl. 1.7, 18).

At least three bishops from Britain attended the Council of Arles in 314. However, no Christian inscriptions or other extant archaeological materials can be dated securely before the fourth century.

…..When the Romans withdrew from Britannia in about 410, their troops being needed in Gaul and Spain to deal with the Germanic invasions from across the Rhine, the popularity of Christianity waned, but, contrary to earlier scholarly views, it did not virtually die out. The absence of the Romans and especially of the elites who had adopted Christianity, however, enabled the Celtic elements within early British Christianity to predominate.

©2014 by William Tabbernee. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.


For more information on Early Christianity in Contexts, click here.