Friday, September 2, 2011

Britain's First Christians ~ Michael Wilson

Historical evidence is not always available or reliable when available. The earliest positive evidence of Christianity in Britain is Roman. Following the exploratory raid by Julius Caesar in 55BC Britain was invaded by the Roman legions in 43 AD under the command of the Emperor Claudius. It was he who personally entered the Celtic settlement now known as London and later the much larger Celtic capital Camelodunum now known as Colchester. Over the following years more legions, merchants and land speculators arrived together with their servants, slaves and followers. Despite the brief set back caused by the Boudicca led revolt, the romanisation process continued. However it should not be thought that the Claudian legions waded ashore bearing Christian symbols, far from it. Paganism, with its plethora of gods and observances was very much the norm, Mithras being one of the main Roman deities, particularly popular with the army. Evidence shows that in the beginning Christianity was very much the religion of the poor, the servant, and the slave or lowly artisan. I would suggest that amongst these groups women would be very much in the majority. The Chi Rho, Alpha and Omega symbols have been found scratched on the remains of early Romano-British everyday earthenware articles, the possessions of the poor and on the walls of excavated Romano-British sites.

The spread of Christianity can be traced by the change in funerary rites. During the 1st and 2nd centuries AD cremation and internment of the ashes in urns was very much the norm. By the 3rd and 4th century AD burials of the person intact became increasingly common; what could be seen as "Orthodox burials". At Poundbury in Dorset a large Romano-British Christian community existed according to the evidence from the burials discovered there and similar evidence has been found at York. Also in Dorset remains of Roman villas have been unearthed at Frampton and Hinton-St Mary with the Chi Rho symbol in floor mosaics. At Lullingstone in Kent there are the remains of a private chapel in a villa. In the North West during the late 1970's much construction work was carried out in Manchester in the Castlefield area which is the site of Roman Mancunium. It was here that an earthenware tablet was unearthed inscribed with a seemingly incoherent jumble. This would have been displayed in a Roman Christian home. To an unbeliever just a tablet with letters, but any Christian entering the house would immediately be able to decipher the letters into the "pater nostra" or "Our Father." They would then know that they were safe to discuss their beliefs which was very important during that brutal period of persecution which took place before 313 AD. The significance of this find is clear when it is realised that this is only the second "pater nostra" acrostic to be found; a similar tablet having been unearthed in Turkey some years previously.

More at


  1. Thank you for this - living in the North West but having close links with the North East (Lindisfarne) I have been following Celtic links that exist locally. Very important, think, that we maintain contact with our own Christian heritage.

  2. I agree fully. We feel links with the Celtic Christian past not only with the geography of where we live, but with religious traditions in many organised, and un-organised, aspects of faith.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...