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Celtic Kingdoms

Celts of Britain


British Church (Roman Catholic Church) (Roman Empire)

The history of the British Isles from the end of the most recent ice age to the formation of the united Anglo-Saxon kingdom forms several stages and covers a good deal of conflict. It starts with the Early Cultures which appear prior to the Iron Age. Then the Celtic occupation of Prydein leads up to the Roman incursions and the creation of Roman Britain. Subsequent decline generates the Post-Roman period in which all stories of Arthur are contained, but this also covers the gradual loss of Celtic power in the land and its marginalisation on the western and northern fringes.

The Romans invaded and conquered the south and east of Britain first, although at times their hold on the island appeared tenuous. From there they extended their conquests to cover modern Wales and the north, areas in which their hold would appear even more tenuous, especially in modern Scotland. Aulus Plautius was appointed by Rome as the first Roman Governor of the island in AD 43, and it was he who commanded the legions and their conquests.

Christianity seems to have come late to Britain in any organised sense, but there are glimpses of it as early as the second century AD. Its first appearances would have been as a result of Roman citizens arriving to work or live in the country and carrying their newfound beliefs with them, or by wandering missionaries coming to preach the word of what was still just another sect in the vast pantheon of religions which was available within the Roman empire.

When Emperor Constantine 'the Great' effectively converted the empire to Christianity in AD 313, it became far more visible even in Britain. An empire-wide church organisation began to appear, as did early churches which copied their layout from established Roman architecture and older temples.

The organisation of the British Church in Roman Britannia is very poorly known, but there may have been an archbishop for each of the four Late Roman provinces: Maxima Caesariensis at Londinium; Flavis Caesariensis at Lind Colun (Anglian Lindsey, modern Lincoln); Britannia Secunda at Eboracum (later capital of the British 'Kingdom of Northern Britain', modern York); and Britannia Prima at Corinum (Caer Ceri, modern Cirencester).

This organisation was largely swept away by the collapse of post-Roman British government in the fifth and sixth centuries, but elements of it survived in the west (and especially in Wales) to be seen in seventh century and later records. Becoming the Celtic Church, it was the Synod of Whitby in AD 664 which sealed the fate of insular Christianity in favour of a full acceptance of Rome's authority.

Roman Canterbury

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from the Life of Mary Magdelene, Archbishop Rabanus Maurus, from the Chronicle of the English Kings, William of Malmesbury, from Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus (Tertullian), from The Oxford History of England: Roman Britain, Peter Salway, from Chronicle of the English Kings, William of Malmesbury, from History of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey of Monmouth, from A History of the English Church and People, The Venerable Bede (Leo Sherley-Price translation - revised by R E Latham), and from External Link: Liber Pontificalis (The Book of the Popes), available via the Internet Archive.)

c.AD 33 - 40

One of the best known legends regarding the introduction of Christianity to Britain is the visit paid by Joseph of Arimathea following the death of Jesus in Judea. Joseph is only mentioned in this role for the first time in the ninth century, in the Life of Mary Magdalene which is attributed to Archbishop Rabanus Maurus of Mainz (766-856). Earlier writers fail to say anything about it, so its veracity is open to a very large degree of doubt.

Mary Magdalene at Marseille
Mary Magdalene preaching the Gospel to fishermen in the port of Messalina (Marseilles), possibly the intended head of Jesus' newly-established religion according to recent theory fuelled by the contents of the 'Lost Gospels'

According to myth, legend, and later stories, Joseph travels west, presumably following the ancient Phoenician trading routes to Gaul (modern France). He lands at Messalina (Marseille) where he delivers to safety Mary Magdalene and her infant child, the offspring of Jesus (whose descendants, it is claimed, marry into the Merovingians and feature in the Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and Da Vinci Code controversy).

FeatureAccording to William of Malmesbury in his Chronicle of the English Kings, Joseph travels on to reach south-west Britain where later literature claims he founds Glastonbury Abbey (see feature link), or at least create the foundations for the Christian church in Britain.

He plants his staff in the soil at the top of Wearyall Hill in Glastonbury, where it takes root. Its descendent survives on the hill to this day, where it is known as the Glastonbury Thorn. Tests have supplied an Eastern Mediterranean origin, specifically Syrian.

178 - 180?

Lucius writes to Pope Eleutherius of the Roman Church requesting to become a Christian. The event is first noted in the sixth century Liber Pontificalis, and Bede repeats it, after which Lucius is widely acclaimed as being responsible for introducing Christianity into Britain.

Sequential Maps of Roman Britain AD 43-425
The Roman invasion of Britain began late in the season, using three divisions which swiftly conquered the south-east before more slowly penetrating the west and north to bring all of England and Wales under their control, as shown in this series of sequential maps (click or tap on map to view full sized)

FeatureHis story is expanded by later writers, when he is credited with founding the church of St Peter upon Cornhill in London (the church carries a plaque to the effect, dating the event to AD 179 - see feature link).

In fact, Lucius may be a misreading of Lucius Aelius Megas Abgar IX, Roman client king of Osroene. However, whether through the involvement of Lucius or not, a British Church does apparently begin to make its presence felt in the country during this century.


Despite the claim that Lucius is responsible for introducing Christianity to Britain, the first confirmed written evidence is in a statement by Tertullian in his work, Adversus Judaeos. He writes that 'all the limits of the Spains, and the diverse nations of the Gauls, and the haunts of the Britons, inaccessible to the Romans, but subjugated to Christ'.

The Greek theologian, Origen, also states around this time that Christianity has reached Britain. Over the next two centuries, archaeological evidence shows that Christian communities begin to emerge in several Roman towns across the country.

Roman-era skull from the Walbrook
Even after the Roman occupation of Britain, a number of British customs seem to have survived, such as using human heads as ritual objects, with this skull being placed in the River Walbrook (which flows through the very centre of Londinium)

209 / 251 / 304

Although the date of his death is disputed between three alternatives, Alban or Albinus is martyred at Verulamium for his conversion to Christianity. He is the first-known Christian martyr in Britain which already has a poorly-recorded British Church administration. By the fifth century a cult already exists in his name in what has probably become Caer Mincip, and the later St Albans Abbey is founded near the site (ether of his death or burial).

3rd century

A first century military-design villa is discovered between 1962-1976 by archaeologists at Eccles (north of Aylesford in the territory of the Cantii). This is near the crossing of the North Downs Way and the River Medway. Along with the villa, a temple and a pottery kiln are also discovered.

The name 'Eccles' itself (Latin 'ecclesia') suggests that there is a later British Church building here, perhaps from the third century and possibly a conversion of the earlier temple.


St George, an officer of the Roman army, is in the Diocese of the Britains when he hears that Christians of the Roman Church are being persecuted by Emperor Diocletian in Rome. He returns to plead their case but is eventually beheaded for refusing to renounce his own belief (George becomes the patron saint of England in the fourteenth century).

Sequential Maps of Roman Britain AD 43-425
In 305-306 Emperor Constantius followed Severus' example and campaigned against the elusive Highland tribes, forcing them into a battle and ensuring a period of renewed peace as shown in this series of sequential maps (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Two other British martyrs during the reign of Diocletian are Aaron and Julius of Luguvalio (Carlisle), in the territory of the Setantii. The persecution sees little observance in Britain under Constantius, whose unofficial first wife, Helena, is later canonised, but many existing church buildings are demolished.


While being attested by archaeology since the beginning of the third century, Christianity in Britain is not seemingly that penetrative until this point, and then there is a sudden and visible upswing. Church buildings which had been demolished in 303 are rebuilt, and this process is greatly aided by Constantine after 324.

fl 314


Bishop of Roman Londinium (London).

fl 314


Bishop of Roman Eboracum (York).

fl 314


Bishop of Lindum (Lincoln) or Camulodunum (Colchester).


Three British bishops participate in the Roman Church's Council of Arles: Eborius of York (Brigantes territory), Restitutus of London, and Adelphius of Lincoln (Corieltavi territory) or possibly Colchester (Trinovantes territory). Given that York and London are leading positions in material which is copied and expanded upon by Geoffrey of Monmouth, it is possible that these three bishops are the most senior members of the church in Britain.

First Council of Nicaea
The First Council of Nicaea, held in Rome in AD 325, decided upon the basic tenants of the Catholic Church, including the contents of the Bible

No other Roman-era sees are known for the country. The church in Lincoln could be the earliest phase of St Paul in the Bail, which is built in the (possibly now-disused) forum. This is rebuilt towards the end of the fourth century, and again around 629 (by which time it is within the kingdom of Lindsey).


Three British bishops participate in the Roman Church's Council of Ariminum (Rimini). The fact that they have to accept assistance with their travel suggests that as institutions the churches in the Diocese of the Britains are not well-off. However, it seems that free travel may be extended to all attendees to the council, along with lodgings.


The praeses of Britannia Prima within the Diocese of the Britains, Lucius Septimius, makes an almost aggressively pagan dedication at Corinium in the civitas of the Dobunni. There is a continuing tradition of paganism amongst people in positions of authority and influence, and Christianity is far from the only available option when it comes to religion. While this dedication is more likely to occur during the reign of the pagan Emperor Julian the Apostate (361-363), this is far from certain.


Towards the end of the fourth century, the large temple by the eastern gate in Calleva Atrebatum falls into disuse. The second, smaller temple alongside it falls into disuse about the same time in this city of the Atrebates, probably due to the rise of Christianity in Britain.

Calleva Atrebatum
An artist's reconstruction of Calleva Atrebatum showing the forum and basilica, along with the cattle market (in front of the main building, complete with cattle) and houses and shops around this important site

The city contains an early Christian church which is excavated in 1890 and 1961 and which, in this period, may be the seat of a bishop. A gold ring uncovered by archaeologists in the town bears the inscription 'Senicianus, live in God'.


The period in which St Ninian is active in Britain is uncertain, with a general date of the fourth or fifth century being given. St Ninian (known as Ringan in Pictland and Trynnian in Northern Britain), is certainly active in these areas. His base may be in the territory of the Novantae, which later houses a major shrine to him, while he spreads the word amongst the South Picts, becoming known as the Apostle to the Southern Picts.

His work is carried out before that of St Patrick in Ireland, because the latter mentions the South Picts being apostates, meaning that they have renounced their conversion to Christianity. Tradition states that Ninian dies in Ireland in 432.

Around the same time, in the fourth and fifth centuries, there are clear signs of active Christianity around Hadrian's Wall, with possible churches and epigraphy which should include the Papias stone from Carlisle and the Brigomaglos stone, along with a stone incised with a cross from Vindolanda.

Multangular Tower
The third century Multangular Tower in York (Ebrauc) lies at the western corner of the legionary fortress, which was probably the military HQ of fifth century Northern Britain. The tower's remains are now part of York's Museum Gardens

This land emerges as part of Rheged, while farther west, in the area of Rhinns and Machars in Galwyddel, there are more signs of Christian activity. This includes memorial stones and church dedications, suggesting either limited but successful missionary activity from Carlisle across the Solent which fails to penetrate eastwards, or early missionary activity from Ireland into Galwyddel.

The Roman presence in Britain has been dwindling for some time, for at least two decades before AD 400, so in AD 409 British and Armorican leaders rebel and expel Roman officials entirely. The split probably produces little immediate change, except that fully British officials now occupy former imperial posts. Records from this point become extremely sparse, and the church organisation becomes increasingly isolated from Rome to produce a Celtic Church.

British Church (Celtic Church) (Romano-Britons)

FeatureWith the expulsion of Roman officials in AD 409 (see feature link), Britain again became independent of Rome and was not re-occupied. The fragmentation which had begun to emerge towards the end of the fourth century now appears to have accelerated, with minor princes, newly declared kings, and Roman-style magistrates all vying for power and influence while also facing the threat of extinction at the hands of the various barbarian tribes which were encroaching from all sides.

With this revolution, the always little-known British Church descended into complete obscurity. Regular contact with the Roman Church was maintained at first, in fits and starts, as shown by the two visits by St Germanus in the fifth century. But as society began to fragment in the face of the increasingly successful Germanic invasion, rapid language change rendered communication harder and the established church infrastructure broke down.

Possible archbishoprics at London and York would have been lost by about AD 500 and 580 respectively, leaving only a possible archbishopric at the City of the Legions (Caerleon in modern Monmouthshire in Wales) as part of a rump church which survived in the far west and in Ireland. This now-Celtic church was reintroduced into areas of Britain outside of Wales and Cornwall via pagan Pictland.

Sources of information are few and far between, and were often written down a long time after the events they described. Geoffrey of Monmouth included several archbishops and bishops in his History of the Kings of Britain, but the later stages of that work, covering the fifth and sixth centuries, are full of fancy. The names he provided are almost certainly inventions, but the background detail seems rarely to have been so. Instead, one or more of the sources he used in his work probably reflected something of the post-Roman church establishment.

Where ecclesiastical names as provided by Geoffrey of Monmouth cannot be verified historically, they are backed in lilac in the list below. Other names can be linked to known persons, although usually at a different point in time. Many of them are based on Welsh or Celtic saints or ecclesiastics of the sixth and seventh centuries, a little after the period in which they are shown in Geoffrey's work, but probably close enough from the viewpoint of someone writing in the twelfth century.

Roman Canterbury

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from the History of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey of Monmouth, from De Excidio Brittaniae et Conquestu (On the Ruin of Britain), Gildas (J A Giles, Ed & Trans, 1841, published as part of Six Old English Chronicles (Henry G Bohn, London, 1848)), from Life of St Deiniol, from A History of the English Church and People, The Venerable Bede (Leo Sherley-Price translation - revised by R E Latham), from the Annales Cambriae, James Ingram (taken from the Harleian manuscript, the earliest surviving version, London, Everyman Press, 1912), from the Life of St Germanus of Auxerre, Constantius of Lyon, from The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, Anne Savage (translator and collator, Guild Publishing, 1983), and from External Links: The South West Heritage Trust, and Carlisle Cathedral (Undiscovered Scotland).)


A synod is held in Carthage (the 'Council of Carthage'), in the Roman province of Africa which takes a firm line against the Pelagian 'heresy'. Pelagius (c.354-420/440) is a British ascetic who has allegedly denied the doctrine of original sin and he finds many supporters in Britain, especially amongst the educated classes.

FeatureHe is also the first member of the post-Roman British Church to be named in any source. Perhaps he reflects a school of free-thinking clerics which may have developed in the country (see feature link).


St Germanus, bishop of Auxerre, and Lupus, bishop of Troyes, visit Britain to fight the Pelagian 'heresy'. They meet with a still extant Romano-British aristocracy (the principle proponents of the heresy), probably at Verulamium. The following year, in line with standard Roman imperial policy in Gaul, Vortigern brings in Saxon allies to help restore order along the country's borders.

St Germanus of Auxerre
The Alleluia Victory saw St Germanus lead the Britons to a bloodless victory over marauding Saxons, perhaps demonstrating that the country was finally managing its own defence


After consecrating St Palladius in Rome, Pope Celestine send him to Ireland as its first bishop, part of the British Church's efforts to convert their Scotti neighbours. It is noteworthy that in his younger days, Palladius writes six documents in support of the Pelagian heresy but, as it is also he who urges the pope to send Germanus to Britain in 429 to help cure the heresy, he apparently changes his views over time.


St Germanus' second visit to Britain rids the country of the last of the Pelagian heresy when he visits Elafius' subjects. Elafius seems likely to have been the leader of the territory of Caer Gwinntguic. Severe plague hits southern Britain in the same year, and unburied bodies are to be found in the streets of cities such as Caer Ceri.

fl c.446

Guitolin / Guitolini / Vitalinus / Guithelinus

Archbishop of London.


Around the time of the appeal to Rome for military assistance, usually known as the 'Groans of the Britons', Geoffrey of Monmouth has Guithelinus in the position of archbishop of London. His very existence is uncertain, but his name in the original Latin is Guitolin or Guitolini, which can be tied to Vitalinus, a figure who is involved in the internecine British Battle of Guolloppum (Cat Guolph, Wallop in Hampshire) in 437.

The figure on the right is thought to be Aëtius, although there is some doubt, and the possibility exists that the sarcophagus on which this relief sits could even have been built half a century before this period

In a convoluted timeline, Geoffrey also has Guithelinus seeking help from Aldroenus, fourth king after Conanus in 'Little Britain, called at that time Armorica or Letavia'. The king sends his brother, Constantine, with two thousand soldiers to Britain and Constantine is raised to the kingship of the island (an event which is actually dated to 407).

c.450 - 460

Occupation of Cadbury Castle is re-established after about four centuries of disuse. Intriguingly, archaeology later discovers near the south-east bend of the top rampart a human sacrifice, a young male skeleton rammed head-downwards into a pit with further rampart building on top.

The purpose of such a sacrifice, this one occurring before the arrival of the Romans, would be to add supernatural support to the wall, and the tradition of Merlin sees him introduced as an intended sacrifice for the very same reason, suggesting the post-Roman continuation of a pagan custom.

Cadbury Castle
Even today, Cadbury Castle presents the image of a powerful and defensible location, with views across the whole of Somerset giving it a level of strategic importance


Coroticus of Alt Clut is almost certainly the British warrior being addressed in a letter by St Patrick, which bemoans the capture and enslavement of newly-Christianised Picts. Patrick blames Coroticus for this and excommunicates his warband as 'associates of the Scotti and Apostate Picts; desirous of glutting themselves with the blood of innocent Christians'.

Clearly Coroticus is a member of the British Church himself. The apostate Picts are those southern Picts who have been converted to Christianity by St Ninian but who have subsequently reverted to paganism.


The British Church alters the date of Easter in line with a continental European change, but another change thirty years later is not followed in Britain. Therefore contact with the Roman Church is lost during this period.


St Patrick had possibly been born as Maewyn Succat at Banna Venta Berniae (location unknown, but subject to much speculation). Around this year, he returns to Ireland as a Christian missionary following a period of six years of captivity there as a slave from the age of sixteen.

Map of Britain AD 450-600
This map of Britain concentrates on British territories and kingdoms which were established during the fourth and fifth centuries AD, as the Saxons and Angles began their settlement of the east coast (click or tap on map to view full sized)

As the country's second bishop (after Palladius), he plays a major part in converting the Irish to Christianity. According to legend, he also rids Ireland of its snakes, which is probably a reference to his driving out of paganism.

fl c.470s?


Bishop of Gloucester (Caer Gloui).

Geoffrey of Monmouth has Eldadus calling for the death of the captured Hengist, following a battle between Saxons and High King Aurelius in Britain. The episode is entirely invented, or perhaps confused with other events. Hengist is thought to die in the territory of the Cantware in 488, and possibly peacefully.

fl c.470s?


Archbishop of the City of the Legions (Caerleon).

fl c.480s?

Dubricius / Dyfrig

Archbishop of the City of the Legions (Caerleon).

Geoffrey of Monmouth's Dubricius is the Welsh Dyfrig. He appears to be the same character as St Dubricius, the illegitimate son of Efrddyl, daughter of Peibio Clafrog of Ercing. Shown distinctly out of his time by Geoffrey, in reality he may be born around 465, and dies in 550, about five years after resigning as bishop of Ergyng.

However, the position itself, archbishop of Caerleon, has a ring of truth about it, as does the idea of archbishoprics of York and London (and these two even more so). The fact that a potentially-abandoned London is not mentioned by Geoffrey amongst the appointments which are made by Ambrosius Aurelianus, perhaps in the 480s, lends support to the idea that this part of the tale has been drawn from older accounts to which Geoffrey has access when he writes.

Post-Roman Londinium
By the mid-fifth century Londinium had been largely abandoned following at least half a century of slow decay and a steadily dwindling population, but with trade virtually ceased the city's purpose was temporarily ended

fl c.480s?

Samson / Sampson

Archbishop of York (Ebrauc). Identified with St Samson of Dol.


Gundleus of Gwynllg (later known as Gwynlliw Farfog, the warrior), holds court at Caerfule (Castrum Buleum) in 'the area of Newport'. Despite an early life reputed to be filled with warring and piracy, in later life he founds the church of Gwynlliw in Newport, which is consecrated in the name of St Mary and is later incorporated into St Woolos Cathedral in Newport (Woolos is an English approximation of his name).


In 2016 archaeologists re-examine the burial site of Beckery Chapel, on the small island peak of the same name in the Avalon Marshes, the wetlands of the Somerset Levels near Glastonbury. They conclude that the site's origins date to the late fifth or early sixth century, making it the earliest-known monastic site in Britain.

Between fifty and sixty skeletons are found, including two juveniles, though to be novices. A single female skeleton is judged to be that of a visiting nun or patron. The monastery buildings would likely be wattle-and-daub huts rather than stone constructions. Burials continue here until the ninth century, by which time Glastonbury Abbey has been established and takes over as the region's main monastic centre.

St Michael's Church, Glastonbury
The Church of St Michael sits at the top of Glastonbury Tor, immediately to the east of the town of Glastonbury in Somerset (click or tap on image to view more)

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, archbishop Samson of York is still alive in Arthur's time (always conjectured to be the period between about AD 480-511), but has been driven out of the city by recent Saxon attacks. Arthur appoints his own chaplain, Piramus, to the position while Samson is appointed archbishop of Dol in the less tumultuous environs of Armorica.

Sadly, although the posts may bear some historical authenticity, the persons involved probably do not. The diocese of Dol is created in 848, although there is an unproven possibility that St Samson founds it between 561-567 and is its first bishop.

fl c.490s?

Piramus / Pyramus

Archbishop of York (Ebrauc).

fl c.490s?

Samson / Sampson

Archbishop of Dol in Armorica. Formerly of York.


This is the generally-agreed date of death for Patrick, patron saint of Ireland. His efforts in converting the Scotti are sometimes confused - and combined - with those of Palladius, who precedes him in the same work by a couple of generations, having been sent there in 431.

St Patrick
This impression of St Patrick in Ireland is one of the less fanciful, and clearly shows the bishop in his later years, towards the end of the fifth century

fl c.500? - c.545


Archbishop of the City of the Legions (Caerleon).

FeatureDavid should probably be associated with the slightly later St David (Dewi Sant), patron saint of Wales. David is born in 458 (according to the Annales Cambriae - see feature link). He rises to the rank of bishop during the sixth century, and dies perhaps either around 589 or, again according the Annales Cambriae, in 601. Geoffrey has him dying in the town of Menevia, to be succeeded by Kinoc.

fl c.500?


Archbishop of London. Unnamed by Geoffrey of Monmouth.

fl c.500?


Archbishop of York (Ebrauc).

Could Piramus be a remembering of St Piran, despite the totally incorrect location? The time period would be correct, give or take half a century or so into the sixth century. See the mid-sixth century entry for St Piran, below.

fl c.500?


Archbishop of Dol in Armorica. Succeeded Samson.

fl c.500?

Maugannius / Maucannus

Bishop of Silchester. Identified with Maucannus.

Geoffrey of Monmouth's Maugannius is a preservation of Maucannus. Ricemarch's Life of St David mentions an ecclesiastic of this name in south-western Wales, and this is supported by place-name evidence there and elsewhere in Wales. Doble identifies this Welsh Maucannus with the St Mawgan who is commemorated in Cornwall. Geoffrey also includes him earlier in the story, as Maugantius, who is consulted by Vortigern as the most learned Briton of his age.

Dumnonia in Maps - Map 2 c.AD 400
By this time, Dumnonia and its territories in Cornwall had probably extended into the former lands of the Durotriges in neighbouring Dorset (click or tap on map to view full sized)

fl c.500?


Bishop of Winchester. Related to Llandevenny (Caerwent)?

fl c.500?


Bishop of Alclud. Identified with St Elidan of Dogfeilion.

Geoffrey's Eledenius is the little-known St Elidan who has churches dedicated in his name in the Vale of Clwyd. This would make Alclud a mistake which should read Clwyd, north-eastern Wales, which is Dogfeilion territory by the late fifth century.

early 6th cent


Linked to St Ciarán of Saigir, bishop of Saighir Kieran, Ireland.

St Piran is the patron saint of tin-miners, and is generally regarded as the national saint of Cornwall. While the saint's origins are open to debate, it is generally accepted that he is St Ciarán of Saigir who had been born and raised on the island of Cape Clear off County Cork in Ireland. His parents are Lughaidh and Liedania (father and mother respectively).

After studying scriptures in Rome, he returns to Ireland to be made bishop at his monastic settlement of Saighir Kieran in County Offaly (the remnants of a kingdom called Uí Failghe). There is no reference to his death but St Piran is best known for landing on Perran Beach in Cornwall in the early sixth century and building the tiny St Piran's Oratory on Penhale Sands near Perranporth.

Bishop Cerula
The fifth century fresco of Bishop Cerula in the San Gennaro catacomb, Naples, destroys the myth that only men ministered to the faithful in the early church and instead adds support to the theory that women played a vital role in the church's early success

The oratory is believed to be one of the oldest post-Roman sites of Christian worship in the country. It is engulfed by sand in the Middle Ages, and only rediscovered in the late eighteenth century. Two major digs in 1835 and 1843 reveal the surviving structure of the oratory, and the remains are encased in a large concrete structure in 1910 after a number of skeletons - including one of a large headless man - have been found. The structure is removed in 1980 and the delicate site buried in sand for its own protection. A new scheme to uncover and display it is started in 2014.


The death of Gundleus of Gwynllg in this year sees his son, Catocus, succeed him, while Catocus' uncle continues to rule in the territory or sub-kingdom of Edeligion. This uncle, Edelig, receives little mention in tradition, so he probably dies relatively early.

However, during his lifetime he is notable for one action, that of donating land to St Cybi so that two churches can be founded, at Llangybi-on-Usk and Llanddyfrwyr-yn-Edeligion, after the king tries and fails to have the saint ejected from the kingdom.

St Cadwg Ddoeth
Catocus of Gwynllg became known in Welsh sources as St Cadwg Ddoeth, and he was arguably the most famous of Glywyssing's sons from this period


FeatureThe British cleric, Gildas, commits to writing the views which are contained in his main work, On the Ruin of Britain. It is a fierce denunciation of the rulers and churchmen of his day, prefaced by a brief explanation of how these evils came to be. This preface is the only surviving narrative history of fifth century Britain.

Latin monasticism had been torpid by AD 500, and has inspired only a few pioneers in the British Isles by the time Gildas writes, but within ten years monasticism becomes a mass movement, in southern Wales, Ireland, and northern Gaul. Its extensive literature reveres Gildas as its founding father, named more often than any other individual.

c.545 - ?


Archbishop of London (promoted from bishop of Caer Gloui).

FeatureThe archbishop of London is appointed around the same time as St David is succeeded by Kinoc. The lack of a name from Geoffrey of Monmouth makes this position all the more likely to be one which is noted in his source material.

The claim of an archbishopric of London is likely to be in name only by this point, as London is in the territory of the Middel Seaxe by now (see feature link). The city is known to be abandoned for up to a century before AD 604, by which time it is firmly in the hands of the East Seaxe.

Map of Britain AD 550-600
At the start of this period, the Angle and Saxon kingdoms on the east and south coasts were firmly established. Many of the rapidly-formed Romano-British territories in those areas had been swept away in the late fifth century (click or tap on map to view full sized)

c.545 - ?


Archbishop of the City of the Legions (Caerleon).

This Kinoc is probably identifiable with the Kinoc who succeeds St Padarn or Paternus, a bishop in Wales in the mid-fifth century. Padarn is recalled to Brittany by 'Prince Caradoc' (seemingly Caradog Freichfras, king of Gwent and founder of Bro Erech in Brittany), to become bishop of Vannes, and Kinoc replaces him in his position in Wales.

c.545 - 584


Bishop of Bangor. Identified with St Deiniol.

The Daniel who is provided by Geoffrey of Monmouth is St Deiniol, traditionally thought of as being the first bishop of Bangor, which lies within the kingdom of Gwynedd. According to the Latin Life of St Deiniol, he is the son of Dunod Fawr, king of Dunoting, and grandson of Pabo Post Prydein, early sixth century king of the Pennines.

He is apparently consecrated in 545 by St David, and dies in 584. The present Bangor Cathedral is said to stand on the site of Deiniol's first monastery.


St Columba, a descendant of the high kings of Ireland, follows in the footsteps of the Irish Scotti to spread the Celtic church into Dál Riata (now western Scotland) and northern Pictland. Arriving with twelve companions, he is granted land on Iona where he founds a monastery in order to introduce the Picts along the western coast to Christianity. Visiting the king, he wins his respect and subsequently plays a major role not just in winning converts for the church but also as a diplomat.

St Columba
St Columba's mission to the Scots of Dál Riata and the Picts of northern Britain greatly expanded the reach of the Celtic church, with this oil of his meeting with the Picts being painted in 1898 by William Brassey Hole


Caer Gloui, together with Caer Baddan and Caer Ceri, falls to the West Seaxe following the Battle of Deorham or Dyrham. The Hwicce take over the territory and eventually push its borders north into Worcestershire, at the expense of Pengwern.

However, rather than simply sweep away all that is British, they appear to form a new top layer of aristocracy over a largely British population which retains much of what it had before, possibly even down to its church organisation.


Ebrauc (York) falls to the Angles of Deira, blotting out at least two and-a-half centuries of Christian worship in one of the country's key bishoprics. It seems likely that, if he exists, Geoffrey of Monmouth's Archbishop Tadioceus of York flees the city with the rest of the British nobility, holding his title as an exile, perhaps from Elmet (although Geoffrey states Wales).

However. It is a mere seventeen years until the church is re-established in the city, and about fifty years until it is raised to the status of an archbishopric by the newly-returned Roman Church.

Tradition states that Catocus, king of Gwynllg & Penychen and also a leading light of the British Church, is elected abbot of a large body of monks in what is traditionally known as Beneventum, which can probably be identified with Bannaventa (modern Weedon) in Calchwynedd. The king and saint is run through with a spear and killed during a raid, presumably by the Ciltern Saetan or Middil Engle. It is one of the few more accurately datable events in the kingdom (if indeed it can be placed here).

Chiltern Hills
The Chiltern Hills contain territory which was probably easy to defend for the warriors of the post-Roman kingdom of Cynwidion, at least initially and in part, but Angles and Saxons who formed the Ciltern Saetan cut them off to the west and eventually forced their collapse

? - c.590s?


Archbishop of London. Certainly in exile.

? - c.590s?


Archbishop of York (Ebrauc). Certainly in exile.


Five years after Urien's assassination, North Rheged's borders are threatened as the Pennine kingdom of Dunoting falls to Bernicia. As a background to the military failures, this late sixth century period produces no Christian activity in three sites in Carlisle which are important in the seventh to ninth centuries (the cathedral, St Michael's Church, and the Workington & Dacre monastery site). This suggests that Christianity under the British Church is loosely enforced or encouraged, but that the later Anglian masters of Carlisle impose it more forcefully.


Augustine is sent by Pope Gregory to England to establish the Catholic church and Christianise the Anglo-Saxons. He is cautiously received in Kent, thanks to King Æthelbert's Christian wife (although there are signs that Æthelbert himself may have strongly suggested beforehand that the mission be sent), and establishes the archbishopric at Canterbury.

Around the same date, the Gododdin commemorates a force of Britons who assemble near Din Eidyn at this time in preparation for facing their powerful foe. It includes not only the still-wealthy and aggressively strong Guotodin themselves, but warriors from all over the country. They go into battle after attending 'churches for shriving, true is the tale, death confronted them' - clearly the British Church exists here.

Pope Gregory I
Pope Gregory I was one of the most important and influential figures for the early papacy, spreading Christianity to new outposts such as Corsica, Sardinia, and England


The first meeting takes place between the Roman Church in the form of St Augustine, and the Celtic church (the descendant of the former British Church of the Roman empire period). It is arranged when Æthelbert of the Cantware uses the Hwicce as intermediaries, as they possess a church organisation which seems to have survived intact from prior to the Saxon and Angle takeover of the region.

The meeting occurs at a place which Bede names as St Augustine's Oak, on the border between the Hwicce territory and that of the West Seaxe (somewhere on the eastern slopes of the Cotswolds, perhaps near Wychwood in Oxfordshire). The meeting goes favourably for Augustine.

A second meeting is quickly arranged, although perhaps not in the same year. This takes place at Abberley in Worcestershire, probably close to the border between the Hwicce and Pengwern. It is attended by the seven bishops of the Celtic church (which also possesses one remaining archbishop), along with many learned monks, mainly from Bangor-is-Coed (in Pengwern). Of the latter, Abbot Dinoot is their head.

The Britons are not impressed with Augustine's imperious manner and the meeting ends in disappointment for the Roman envoy, with no agreements of cooperation or unity being reached between the two churches, especially in regard to the important question of the calculations for Easter and evangelising the pagan English.

Remains of Roman Canterbury
The Roman city of Canterbury was, by the sixth century, in ruins, with small Anglo-Saxon houses built in between (the remains of the city wall can be seen in the distance)


Around 604, Sæberht is the first East Saxon king to be baptised. The ceremony is carried out by Mellitus, first bishop of the reconstituted diocese of London, and consecrated by Augustine himself. The diocese is part of the growing Roman Church organisation in Britain which is led from Canterbury, and the Celtic church plays no part in its establishment.


Cynfyn ap Peibio of Ercing is largely unknown, but he is mentioned on a couple of charters which confirm his role as ruler of Ercing and which are linked to the British church. Those mentions are both in the collected Llandaff Charters, the second in a land grant to Bishop Aeddan of Gwent & Ercing (who dies around 608), and the first in a charter which can be linked to Bishop Elwystl of Gwent & Ercing (prominent in the late sixth century).

c.610s - 620s

FeatureIt is around this time that the Britons of Glastenning found Glastonbury Abbey, which remains one of Britain's best known abbeys until its closure at the Dissolution (see feature link).

The fact that they are able to do this means that the West Seaxe conquest of the West Wansdyke has not proceeded particularly far south, and Glastonbury is still in British hands. The site may already have been in use by monks since the late 400s.

FeatureIn the same period, around 613, two major battles are fought in the west of Britain, at Caer Legion (Chester) and Bangor-is-Coed. The antagonists are Æthelfrith of Bernicia on the one hand and a host of British kings on the other. The monks of Bangor-is-Coed are present at Caer Legion to pray for divine support, but like the kings they too are slaughtered (the act is seen as divine retribution for their refusal to help evangelise the English in 603 - and see one of Geoffrey of Monmouth's more accurate entries about this campaign via the feature link).

The Glastonbury region, nominally part of Dumnonia, seems to have experienced a power vacuum in the mid-fifth century which allowed the Dogfeilion to walk in and take over (click or tap on image to view more)

627 - 629

FeatureAnother lost diocese is re-established by Canterbury, this time at York, Justus is responsible for consecrating Paulinus as the first bishop of York within the Anglian kingdom of Deira. The king of Deira is baptised in St Peter's Chapel in York (now York Minster - see feature link).

The chapel, a wooden building, is constructed especially for the ceremony as apparently, unlike St Martin's Church in Canterbury, there is no suitable Roman-period British Church building in York to rebuild. As well as conducting the baptism of Edwin of Deira, two years later Paulinus also converts the Lindisware.

628 - 629

At a point in the seventh century a new church is built on the site of the old Roman forum in Lindsey, also covering a late fourth century British Church in wood (and see AD 314, above). This is at a time in which various former Roman cities are being re-inhabited and rebuilt.

The church of St Paul in the Bail is consecrated about a year after the visit of St Paulinus, and the body of a wealthy British chieftain complete with Celtic hanging bowl is interred within. The church is in ruins by around the 730s, but is subsequently rebuilt several times (to be finally demolished in 1971, in the shadow of Lincoln Cathedral).

Spearhead from Winteringham
This spearhead, dated to AD 500-750, was found in Winteringham, possibly one of the first places to be settled by the newly-arriving Angles as they moved south from the Humber to form the Lindisware people


The Hwicce are by now converted to Christianity, but possibly by the Celtic Church rather than the Roman Church as, unusually, Bede fails to mention their conversion. Two eccles place names within the kingdom indicate the survival of Christian communities into the period of Anglo-Saxon incursion. There are also scattered clues to a continuity of worship from sub-Roman to Anglo-Saxon. Probable British Christian burials have been found beneath Worcester Cathedral and St Mary de Lode, Gloucester.


FeatureKing Wulfhere of Mercia accepts baptism, perhaps as part of an agreement with Oswiu of Northumbria to allow him to accede to the throne, although the precise details have been lost. Unusually where the English kingdoms are concerned, the baptism is carried out by the Celtic Church, possibly a survival in some form of Penda's former close connections and alliances with British leaders (see feature link).


The Synod of Whitby sees Oswiu of Northumbria accept the Catholic church of Rome and its representative at Canterbury in preference to the Celtic Church based at Iona, thereby sidelining the latter and sending it into terminal decline. The seat of the church in Northumbria is moved from Lindisfarne to York.

Over the next century there is an explosion of building as churches, monasteries, and other religious centres spring up as centres of learning, transforming both the geography and society of England.

Ancient Monastic Life
George Cattermole's impression of 'Ancient Monastic Life' would have seemed very realistic and highly relevant to many in late seventh and eighth century England


FeatureSt Cuthbert visits Christians in Carlisle, showing that a community has either survived here or has begun anew following the collapse of Roman authority. At this time there is a monastery operating within the remains of the Roman town. Its history after this is unknown, but if it survives then it is effectively replaced in 1102 by Henry I when he grants land for a religious community which will eventually build Carlisle Cathedral (see feature link).


A Celtic church synod is allegedly held at Tara in Ireland by Adamnan, abbot of Iona, who is also the biographer of the life of St Columba.

FeatureFollowing the close of the seventh century and the failure of the Celtic church to win influence in England, the organisation of Celtic Christianity, never very unified, fragments further. Divergent traditions and practices begin to appear in Breton, Cornish, Dál Riatan, Irish, Manx, Pictish, and Welsh churches (see feature link), although they all remain part of the Catholic rite in essence and general practice.

St Mary's Church, Chirk, Wrexham, Wales
The original St Tissilio's Church in Chirk in Wales was probably built over a 'llan', a walled enclosure with a chapel, hermit's huts, and burials, and was dedicated to St Tysilio (click or tap on image to view more)

The process of easing the Celtic churches back into the Catholic mainstream is a long drawn-out one, but it gains pace following the reforms of Pope Gregory within an increasingly united England and its peripheral subjects.

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