20 May 2024 – Arrival of Christianity to Britain

By | June 3, 2024

In the session we continued to look at the impact of the arrival of Christianity to Britain considering the early saints.

There is archaeological evidence of Christianity in Britain dating back to the late 200s and it gradually spread.  In the early 400s the Romans left and people who arrived in the south-east and north-east after they left were pagan, so Christianity was reduced.  However, this did not happen in the west, where it consolidated and expanded.   Roman-style Christianity then slowly expanded in the south-east and east, while British/Celtic Christianity remained strong in the west.  The Celtic form had a more mystical approach and was perhaps more open to the folklore. Up until the eighth century, the British church remained independent of Rome

In early medieval times people were still following the pagan ways. The Roman church had an aim to convert all heathens to the faith so in 601 instructions were sent by the Pope to the British Clergy to take over existing pagan sites.  In 669 a letter from a different pope was sent which instructed them to clamp down upon existing pagan practices.

We looked at the ways the Church did this using the early saints and religious converts.

The lives of the saints were written by Monks in various centres, these were not historical documents.  They were in a position to be able to manipulate the stories.  There was not a lot of concrete information on the early saints and they filled in with the folklore.

1/.  St Brynach – had very little known about him.  He probably lived in the second half of the fifth century, studied in Ireland and then moved to Wales as a missionary and was credited with founding the Church at Nefyn.  In The ‘Life’ written by the monks he outsmarted a Celtic wise woman, created a healing well, built a church in ancient woodland and followed a white sow to a site in the Nefyn Valley where he built another church.

This story had ancient sites and echoes of Celtic stories.  A saint can do anything a Celtic hero can do.  It also made the stories understandable to the people who read about them.

2/. St Cadoc.  Again there were very few facts, he was brought up in a Christian home and then came under the influence of a hermit.  In the ‘Life’ Cadoc had royal origins and was very like a Celtic hero.  He changed the colour of cattle in a clash with King Arthur and won against him.

King Arthur had a difficult relationship with the church at the time, in the early days he was pagan.

3/. St Carannog – had an encounter with King Arthur who was so influenced by Carannog he persuaded a local chieftain called Cato to provide land on which Carannog built a church.

4/. St Padarn – also encountered and overcame King Arthur.

5/. St Illtyd – founded a monastic centre in Llanilltyd.  According to ‘Life’ he was a cousin of King Arthur and was a warrior but gave up his warrior life to live as a hermit after St Cadoc caused his men to be buried alive.

6/.  St David – very little is known about St David, he trained under St Illtyd at Llanilltyd and founded a monastery.

In the ‘Life’ his mother is Non a granddaughter of King Uther Pendragon, his father is a Prince and his birth is surrounded by portents, omens and strange phenomena, prophesied by Merlin.  He trained as priest and followed an austere lifestyle, had a magic bell and horse.  He travelled widely.  He was directed by an angel to Glyn Rhoslyn where he defeated the druid Boia and his wife in a way which echoed the old testament plagues or Celtic Mythology.  There he built a monastic settlement, the origins of St Davids.

Last Updated on June 3, 2024