CAME TO BRITAIN
THE story of Christianity under the Romans can be divided into five main stages. Firstly there are the martyrs, who provide the only evidence for Christianity in the first three centuries, when it was - still a forbidden faith. When in 312 Constantine issued the Edict of Toleration, and Christianity became the "official" religion, the first effects would probably be felt in the army, so we must look there for the first traces. It then spread, somewhat precariously, to the towns and the villas, both of which we examine in turn. Finally, there was the great mass of the people, living in the countryside, where we must record the comparative failure of Christianity to penetrate at all during the fourth century.
'Christianity penetrated the Western Provinces of the Roman Empire only slowly, probably through the agency of merchants from the Eastern Mediterraneari, who were also responsible for bringing in other eastern cults whose traces have been found on RomanoBritish sites. Christianity was unpopular, its profession illegal, and hence the earliest evidence we have of its presence in Britain comes from accounts of martyrs.
Britain can boast of three genuine martyrs. By far the best known is S1. Alban, who was put to death on a hill just outside the Roman town of Verulamium, now named S1. Albans after him. But though we have a fairly convincing ,account of his death, his date remains a problem; he is said to have suffered under Diocletian (in 303), but since, in fact,we are told
Left: The mosaic from Lullingstone, discussed 'on page 64 Photo,: 'T'he fiimes'.
that no martyrs suff-ered under Diocletian in the West, modern scholars tend to put his death to the persecutions of Severus in 208, or Decius and Valerius in 250-259.
Based on the lecture by Dr. W. H. C. Frend
These accounts of early Christianity are based on a tape recording of the conference on Christianity in Roman and Sub-Roman Britain organized by the University of Nottingham in conjunction with the Council for British Archaeology. However, I have tried to simplify the story, and to fill in the occflsional gaps to provide an overall picture. Thus although the responsibility for any errors must be mine, the credit for the substance of the articles must go to the original contributors to the conference, to all of whom I express my thanks.
find early Christianity in the military areas, along Hadrian's Wall, and in the Saxon shore forts. And we do indeed find evidence for Christianity here. In the first place, there are the officers. During the fourth century quite a few of these tried to make themselves Emperor, and became usurpers. These are, in fact, the only officers we hear about, and all are Christian.
Secondly there is the evidence from Christian graves, and we find some of these in the military fortress at York. Finally, there is the question of the Pagan temples. The year 297 saw the great Pictish Invasion, when the barbarians poured in and sacked the wall, and destroyed the temples. The wall is rebuilt, but most of the temples are not: only Coventina's well continues to flourish right down into the end of the fourth century. More positive evidence for the ending of Paganism comes from the fort at Richborough in Kent, where two pagan temples of the Romano-Celtic type were deliberately destroyed in the middle of the fourth century. -
The other two martyrs were Aaron and Julian, who suffered at Caerleon. Two inferences can be drawn from this simple statement. Firstly, Aaron is a Jewish name, so they were probably not native Britons, but immigrants. (Compare Pap i as, Key personality, 1). Secondly, Caerleon was not a town, but a legionary camp so they may have been soldiers: or traders who supplied the army.
In 312 the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Toleration, and soon afterwards Christianity became the "official" 'religion. Since soldiers are officials, they would be expectea to become Christian, and we should therefore expect to
There is considerable historical evidence for the existence of 'Christianity in towns in the fourth century. In 314 a great council was held at ArIes, in France, which was attended by three British Bishops, from London York and a third place; the man~scrips'read "Colonia Londoniensis" which is obviously wrong, as London has already been mentioned. Guesses vary between Lincoln, which was a colony with a similar name (Lindinensis), and Colchester, the most important of the coloniae. Another council was held at Ariminurn in 359 at which three of the British Bishops attending disgraced