Sunday, 24 June 2012

(Born c.AD 494) and Saint Cybi Felyn, Abbot of Caer-Gybi (†555)

Saint Seiriol, Abbot of Penmon Priory

Sources: and
Saint Cybi "the tawny" ------ Saint Seiriol "the fair"

St. Cybi Felyn, Abbot of Caer-Gybi
(c. AD 483-555)
(Welsh: Gybi; Latin: Cepius; English: Cuby)
Prince Cybi the Tawny was almost certainly born around AD 485 in the Callington region of Cerniw (Cornwall) - although  Cuby (near Tregony) and Duloe are alternative claimants. He had a fine education and took a keen interest in Christianity even in his youth. At the age of twenty-seven, he made pilgrimages to Rome and Jerusalem and eventually became a priest, being consecrated bishop by the Bishop of Poitiers. On returning home, he found that his father, King Salom, had died and he was nominally the monarch of his country. However, Cybi had set his heart on a life dedicated to God and so, when he was formally offered the Cornish throne,  he politely refused and Cerniw once more became united with Dumnonia.
Cybi then began to travel the Celtic World. He founded churches at Duloe, Tregony, Cubert and Landulph in Cerniw. He later crossed the Bristol Channel to Edeligion in South-East Wales, with several followers (including St. Cyngar of Llangefni). The local King, Edelig, did not welcome them at first. Eventually, however, the monarch was brought round and gave the Cornishman two churches at Llangybi-upon-Usk and Llanddyfrwyr-yn-Edeligion. Cybi then moved on to Ireland (staying with his cousin, St. Dewi (David) at Mynyw (St. Davids) en route). He settled on the Island of Aran Mor where the Irish came to know him as St. Mo-Chop. After Aran, Cybi and his followers moved to Meath and then Mochop, but each time they were hounded by a local presbyter. So, Cybi sailed for Wales once more.
He landed on the Lleyn Peninsula and lived for a while at Llangibi near Pwllheli. Here the local King, Maelgwn Gwynedd, came across him while out hunting a certain goat. Cybi used his charms to pacify the King's anger at finding an unapproved Christian community in his kingdom, and even persuaded him to give the saint one of his palaces, at what became Caer-Gybi on Ynys-Gybi. Cybi and his followers settled here and established a thriving monastery. The Cornishman became a firm friend of St. Seiriol who lived on the opposite side of Ynys Mon (Anglesey), and the two would often meet up for prayers at the Clorach Wells in Llandyfrydog in the centre of the island. This journey, with his face to the sun, allowed St. Cybi to nurture an enviable tan. Hence his epithet of 'Felyn'.
St. Cybi is said to have attended the Synod of Llandewi Brefi in AD 545, where his advice was sought by a number of priests hoping to make a pilgrimage to Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island). The men were worried about Saxon pirates, but the saint persuaded them that if their faith was strong enough they had nothing to fear. While in Dyfed, Cybi founded the Church of Llangybi near Lampeter. He died on 8th November AD 555 and was buried on Ynys Enlli (Bardsey).

St. Seiriol Gwyn
(Born c.AD 494)
(Latin: Serialanus; English: Serial)
St. Seiriol the Fair was a younger brother of Kings Cynlas of Rhos and Einion of Lleyn. He entered the religious life and lived in a small hermitage on the Eastern Peninsula of Ynys Mon (Anglesey). His two ruling brothers later decided this humble residence was far too lowly for their Royal brother and founded an important monastery around his cell. Thus, Seiriol became the first Abbot of Penmon Priory. His hermitage and holy-well can still be seen there today.
Seiriol became a great friend of St. Cybi who lived at Caer-Gybi on Ynys Cybi (Holy Island) on the far side of Ynys Mon (Anglesey). The two would often walk several miles to meet up for prayers at the Clorach Wells in Llandyfrydog in the centre of the island. This journey with his back to the sun allowed St. Seiriol's complexion to remain so fair that he was given the epithet of "Gwyn".
In old age, Seiriol retired to Ynys Lannog (Priestholm), just off the coast from Penmon. It became known as Ynys Seiriol in his honour, though it is now better known as Puffin Island.

Saint Mildred, Abbess of Minster-in-Thanet, Kent (†732)

A first approach to the indigenous Orthodox Saints and Martyrs of the Ancient Church who lived and who propagated the Faith in the British Isles and Ireland during the first millennium of Christianity and prior to the Great Schism is being attempted in our website  in our desire to inform our readers, who may not be aware of the history, the labours or the martyrdom of this host of Orthodox Saints of the original One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of our Lord.
"The Church in The British Isles will only begin to grow when she begins to venerate her own Saints"     (Saint Arsenios of Paros †1877)

SAINT MILDRED St. Mildred was the daughter of King Merewald of Magonset and his wife, St. Ermenburga (alias Aebbe of Minster-in-Thanet); and therefore sister of Saints Milburga and Milgitha. At an early age, her mother sent her to be educated at Chelles in France, where many English ladies were trained to a saintly life.
A young nobleman, related to the Abbess of Chelles, entreated her to arrange that he might marry this English princess. The abbess tried to persuade her, but Mildred said her mother had sent her there to be taught, not to be married, and all the abbess's advice, threats and blows failed to persuade her to accept the alliance offered to her. At last the abbess shut her up in an oven in which she had made a great fire; but after three hours, when she expected to find not only her flesh but her very bones burnt to ashes, the young saint came out unhurt and radiant with joy and beauty.
The faithful, hearing of the miracle, venerated Mildred as a saint; but the abbess, more infuriated than ever, threw her on the ground, beat, kicked and scratched her and tore out a handful of her hair. Mildred found means to send her mother a letter, enclosing some of her hair, torn from her head by the violence of the abbess; and Queen Ermenburga soon sent ships to fetch her daughter.
The abbess, fearing that her evil deeds should be made known, would, on no account, give permission for her departure. Mildred, however, fled by night; but, having in her haste forgotten some ecclesiastical vestments and a nail of the cross of Christ which she valued extremely, she managed to return for them and brought them safely away.
Upon her arrival back in England, she landed at Ebbsfleet where she found a great square stone, miraculously prepared for her to step on from the ship. The stone received, and retained, the mark of her foot and was afterwards removed to the Abbey of Minster-in-Thanet (below) and kept there in memory of her. Many diseases are said to have been cured for centuries after, by water containing a little dust from this stone. It was often removed from its first situation, until an oratory was built for it.
With her mother's consent, Mildred joined her at her foundation of Minster-in-Thanet. She was given the veil by Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, at the same time as seventy other nuns. On St. Ermenburga's death, Mildred succeeded her as Abbess of the community, to whom she set a holy example and by whom she was much beloved. An old story is recorded that one night, while she was praying in the church of her monastery, the devil blew out her candle, but an angel drove him away and re-lit it for her.
Mildred died of a lingering and painful complaint, around AD 732.
The reliquary of St. Mildred's grace-bearing relics at Thanet
She was succeeded by St. Edburga of Minster-in-Thanet. During the latter's rule, it apparently happened that the bell-ringer fell asleep before the altar. The departed Mildred awoke him with a box on the ear, exclaiming, "This is the oratory, not the dormitory!"
She continued to be an extremely popular saint, eclipsing the fame of St. Augustine, in the immediate neighbourhood of her monastery, where the place that used to be proudly pointed out as that of his landing came to be better known as "St Mildred's Rock."
In 1033, St. Mildred was translated to St. Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury and minor relics also passed from here to Deventer in Holland where she was honoured on 17th July; though her feast, in England, is three days earlier. There was, however, a rival set of relics which were said to have been hidden at Lyming, with those of her sister, Milgitha, during the Viking devastation. These were given to the Religious Hospital of St. Gregory in Canterbury, by Archbishop Lanfranc in 1085.
Mildred is represented in art holding a church and accompanied by three geese, as she was protector against damage by such wild birds.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Anglo-Saxon churches in England


Turriform churches, pre-conquest Romanesque fabric, pilaster strips, timber churches, with various churches discussed in outline.Wing, Buckinghamshire
Firstly a broad (introductory) look at Anglo Saxon churches in England.
Most people will be familiar with the humble parish church, but we can read the stones which have such a story to tell. Look for the distictive Saxon long & short work of the quoins (corner stones) which sometimes use stones as tall as five feet. Pilaster strips may be perceived which are often a distinctive feature of walling, and also blank arcading within vertical pilaster strips (as extant in the tower walls at Earls Barton in Northamptonshire and at Bradford-upon-Avon, Wiltshire). One overriding feature is the characteristic narrowness in relation to the substantial height of Saxon buildings, and doorways are of tall and narrow proportions. Look for triangular headed doorways, and doorways and window openings constructed of massive ashlar blocks (megalithic construction). Perhaps because of the relatively large numbers of surviving country churches where Saxon work can be found, the smaller buildings and their features may be of a modest scale and which look quaint - archaic. In the cases of Minster churches, such a Stow in Lindsey, the proportions are larger than the average parish church. The rich Saxon Monasteries (such as Sherborne Abbey) built on a grand and imposing scale, and particularly high status mature late Saxon (Continental) Romanesque fabric can be misinterpreted and confused with that of very early (English) Norman Romanesque. St. Peter’s Westminster, Edward the Confessor's Saxon Minster built in ‘imported’ Romanesque style was consecrated on Christmas Day 1065. The building was as large as the present structure, and doubtless some Saxon walling exists buried underneath the later medieval reworking. And how many people know of the existence of a Saxon door in St. Peters (albeit in a cut down state)? There are a number of high status buildings where a substantial part of the fabric remaining is pre-conquest, for example the churches at Bradford-on-Avon, Brixworth, Milborne Port, Sherborne Abbey, Stow-in-Lindsey, Deerhurst, and Worth.
This understandable confusion with "Norman" Romanesque is particularly so with the larger churches and Minsters, and none more so than those with central towers over a crossing, which one might regard as arriving with the conquest. Some fine churches with this prominent feature which are worth mentioning here are - Stow-in-Lindsey Lincolnshire, Milborne Port in Somerset, Sherborne Abbey church in Dorset, and Great Paxton in Huntingdonshire (the latter with a fine nave arcade but the tower now gone). The larger Minsters, monasteries and cathedrals will be dealt with in a separate chapter later. Saxon work was normally substantial, in as much as churches were built on well prepared foundations and in good stone areas massive blocks were employed, which were in many cases reused Roman stone. In poor stone areas such as Sussex and Norfolk, flint was employed. Roman cities nearby or on site were robbed for their stone and brick (St. Albans, Lincoln, Colchester, York). As Saxon walls were of good quality build they were often (in the smaller to medium size churches) only 2 foot six in width. Towers were however constructed with more substantial supporting walls, the central tower at Milborne Port has walls in excess of 5 feet. At Netheravon (Wiltshire) the tower has walls 3 foot 6 inches width. Churches of considerable note are Brixworth, Earls Barton,Escombe, Stow-in-Lindsey, and Worth, to name only five.

The British churches built in the south east of England between the 5th and 7th centuries.

St Martin in Canterbury was built, according to Bede, in Roman times (i). In 669 a priest called Bassa was given the ruins of the Roman fort of Regulbium (Reculver, Kent) in which to build a minster. The ruins of Reculver Minster still stand, wantonly dismantled in 1805 (scroll down for picture), there remains walling above foundation level of the early church (the Norman twin towers still stand though without their spires). The great triple chancel arch is now housed in the crypt of Canterbury cathedral. We remember the influence of the reforming archbishop, the Syrian,Theodore of Tarsus, Archbishop of Canterbury (669-90). Syrian civilisation collapsed with the arrival of the Persians in 610. The outcome was the dispersal of Syrian monks and craftsmen throughout Christendom and into Christian Europe, and it is to them that the unusual arrangement of the porticus at Bradwell andReculver can be ascribed. They are not in fact for burials but are the diaconicon and prothesis of the Syrian church - chapels used for the receipt of offerings from the faithful and their preparation for the altar (i).
(i) source: Anglo-Saxon England, by Lloyd & Jennifer Laing.
Who built the churches and Minsters?
The size and style of any church in the Anglo-Saxon period depended upon the status of the Lord, or Theign, who would have funded and commissioned the fabric to be built. Remember that in the years before the 11th century there was no concept of a "parish" church. Churches built on estates (such as Breamore in Hampshire) were effectively private 'chapels' for the use of the Lord and his family, and the larger Monasterium were monastic buildings.
Some churches were 'tower' churches, known as 'turriform'. St. Peters at Barton upon Humber, the church at Earls Barton, and the church at Netheravon belonged to that type. They typically comprised a tower with adjuncts on one, two, or four faces, the tower comprising the 'nave' and the other 'porticus' arms serving as chapels with possible sacristy, or baptistery. Perhaps in time of peril they could be used as places of safety.
Netheravon (Wilts), W archway in tower, S capital
The sites of the later stone built Norman and medieval parish churches were initially, in the Saxon period, and in all probability simply marked by a cross, or in some cases possibly a timber church. A good sign to look for is a churchyard with an oval boundary (although this can be partially obscured in towns due to encroachment by buildings), and in proximity to a stream or river where early baptisms would doubtless have taken place. Building in stone in ensuing years was the mark of substantial funds and considerable wealth was thrown at Saxon Minsters (Monasterium) and Monasteries, Nunneries, etc. It was in the years after 900 that the smaller stone churches (which became parish churches) would begin to appear. As an example Sussex has a very good scattering of such churches. In two (known) cases post-Roman Christian buildings were located at, or in, Roman buildings. Revealed just beneath the present nave floor on the south side of Wimborne Minster (Dorset) is a part of a Roman mosaic floor made of small tesserae. It is currently viewable and is protected beneath glass. Quite probably there is far more of the flooring but it lies buried under the present medieval floor. In some instances Christian churches were sited at a Roman villa, such as at Rivenhall, Essex. A Seax archaeology report stated: A Saxon cemetery was also centred around the villa remains and, subsequently, an early medieval timber church was constructed over the southern part of the main villa building. It has been suggested that the villa building itself may have been reused as an early church or mausoleum. This may have been the case at Wimborne where a room in a villa used as a Christian chapel may have continued in use into the post-Roman period to be expanded later as a church. The church of All Hallows by the Tower, in London, is sited over a Roman pavement which may be seen in the Undercroft; the Saxon part of the church dates from 650. Any excavation to explore Roman sites below churches would be extremely difficult due to the extent of a medieval church and graveyard currently in use, whereas at Rivenhall investigation was able to be carried out due to various favourable factors. Christianity became a tolerated religion of the empire when Constantine became the sole Roman Emperor in 324, and it follows that certain citizens would wish to use a room of their property as a Christian chapel, Rivenhall being a case in point where this possibly happened.
High status buildings such as minsters, cathedrals and monastic fabric were in receipt of, and had access to, funding by a wealthy patron, and in some cases the king (v). That permitted sourcing highly skilled masons practising the newest and latest style. They would have commanded higher rates than the average jobbing mason who would have worked on smaller buildings. In those decades preceding the Conquest, Saxon masons were sent across the channel to be schooled in the art in masons yards in northern Gaul, and naturally their highly skilled work reflected the style and techniques learnt of Romanesque building as it was developing on the continent. In the (partially) blocked windows, for instance, in the south wall of the chancel at Milborne Port church we see a mixture of "Norman" Romanesque and Saxon Romanesque in the dual style of Earls Barton church, S aspectthe capitals, and on the exterior wall remnants of allied pilaster strip work with arcading relating to those blocked windows.
What makes a building so very much “Anglo-Saxon”, and what distinguishing features might one look out for?
That very distinctive strip-work on wall faces, the pilaster strip, must be the one singular feature running through the centuries and common to the humble church and Minster which can all exhibit that feature (for example Deerhurst St Mary in Gloucestershire, Milborne Port in Somerset, Earls Barton (pictured left), and Woolbeding church in Sussex).
Let us look at the ‘early’ days of Saxon building and examine how the fabric looked. Features one might observe, firstly the walling - pilaster work, quoining, plinths and string-courses, the particular build and material of a wall, and its proportions. Then secondly features such as windows, doorways, arcading and surface decoration, carvings etc. The walls of a fabric are the load bearing shell and this is certainly the part one at first sees when approaching a building, the windows and openings and decoration are another aspect in that same fabric. Often features have been lost, replaced and cut out, or blocked up over the centuries, doorways, windows perhaps, so that in extreme cases all we have left is a quoin or perhaps a section of walling remaining. Possibly a later arcade has been inserted in the lower part of a wall. Now this latter point is worth elaborating upon, and you will understand that when a nave was “aisled” the particular wall in question was not removed. The technique was to cut out and insert the later work, usually an arcade, or a doorway. The picture (right) shows a Saxon blocked window in its nave wall, at Brigstock, Northants. It has been truncated by insertion of a later arcade beneath it. This skillful insertion achieved one main aim, to radically minimise the amount of work expended, demolishing a wall only to rebuild it over the new arcade was not an economic option. Importantly it meant the building could be kept in more or less continuous use. This technique was taken to the extreme degree at Romsey Abbey (Hants) where the new Norman Abbey was built 'outside' the existing Saxon church, actually encapsulating the old building, so there was little disruption to services, an outstanding feat!
Early roofs have disappeared, either through the enlargement of a church, or through the love of low pitched roofs in the 15th century, or their total replacement in Victorian days where the roof might have been found to be in a dangerous condition. However, their remains may often be found in the weather moulding left on a tower, or adjoining wall (as at Sherborne Abbey). Possible remains of the Saxon roof over the eastern part of the nave at Deerhurst were lost in Victorian days when the roof was 'tidied up.' The south porticus (roof) lost its identity at this time and was absorbed into the aisle, with one continous roof. Old photographs testify to the older configuration. For a high status Saxon nave see Hutchins drawing of the (demolished) old nave of St. Mary Wareham.
Timber built churches. Unfortunately there are no surviving timber buildings from the 7th and 8th century for us to compare the technique. Many of the early (and smaller) churches would have been constructed in timber, as indeed was the tiny chapel at Glastonbury Abbey (see below). Take as an example the one remaining survival of a church built in this material, at Greensted in Essex. Dating to the second half of the 10th or the first half of the 11th century, it was claimed by a thirteenth century writer that it was in existence in 1013 when the body of St. Edmund, King and Martyr, was conveyed from London to Bury. The timber nave is just under thirty feet long (internally) by 17ft 3in. wide. The walls vary in thickness between about 5 and 10 inches. The present (west) timber tower is 'modern' and the brick chancel is Tudor. Heavily restored in 1848 the oak tree trunks were sawn short and the whole structure rebuilt on a brick plinth and oak sill. This alters the external appearance dramatically. H.Taylor says in volume one of his "Anglo-Saxon Architecture" page 263: "It is difficult to be sure, a hundred years later, how necessary this restoration actually was, but the Rev. A.Suckling recorded his opinion in 1845 that the walls were then so sound and strong as to defy conjecture about the limits of their durability." It therefore seems that timber churches were still being built long after stone was in general use for church building. Remains of another timber church has been found underneath the flooring of a later church, atPotterne in Wiltshire, and there is an early site built into a pagan temple at Yeavering in Northumberland. The small chapel at Glastonbury Abbey was in fact made of wattles and known as the Old Church (Vetusta Ecclesia), and which was said (according to Bede) to have been built by disciples of missionaries who had come to Britain at the request of King Lucius in the second century, although it seems Lucius was from Mesopotamia. The error may have crept in due to misreading the place "Britio" as "Brittanio". However, this does not detract from the history and the early foundation date, it only means that the benefactor's name is lost. This wattled structure had later been covered with timber planks and lead. Discovered by excavations after 1950, this small structure which had no paved floor was some 17 feet by 13 feet wide. Fragments of pottery found trodden into the floor ranged from a scrap dated to the first century AD to the fifth and sixth centuries (and included 2nd century Samian ware). It seems that this early and much venerated building (sited under the medieval cloister) survived into the time of the Norman Abbots Thurstan and Helwin, and beyond, until the disasterous fire in May 1184 destroyed everything including the pre-conquest fabric of the Abbey belonging to King Ine and Dunstan's time.
The traditional use of timber perhaps explains in some measure the appearance of churches when pilaster strips are used. The Saxons may have been replicating how their timber buildings looked, it was the style they were familiar with. And so with pilasters, and bracing (or ‘cross-work’), and with triangular headed doorways and similar windows they built their churches - in stone. In almost every single case the pilasters (and often the quoins) were cut back to leave proud the square sided ‘upright’ effect that you might expect from a hewn length of timber. Warwick Rodwell (and see ''Timber building techniques" below) explains how a (2 light) triangular headed belfry opening at Barton-upon-Humber (St. Peters church) was contructed using wooden boards instead of stone slabs to form parts of the gable heads. He explains how the builders were patently carpenters who were working in stone, and time and time again they built in a way that a stone mason would never do.
Breamore church (Hants), SW aspectOther features.
Pilaster strips. It should be understood that pilaster strips were not purely ornamental. At Deerhurst St. Marys they may be observed in the south wall of the ruined chancel and the stones run deeply into the thickness of the wall. At some sites this may be a reflection of the size and availability of re-used Roman stone with which they were dealing (iii). However stonework applied to, or very near, the surface would not be sound practice and so it made sense for the builders to have included them as an integral part of the construction. In virtually all cases the areas of walling between the raised stonework was plastered over and hid virtually every remaining part of stone, rubble or flint from view. The Victorians love of stripping off plaster may account for the dearth of the same on church exteriors today; however at Netheravon church the tower still retains the major part of its plaster covering and which butts up against the alternate quoining. At Breamore both the substantial (corner) quoins and intermediate vertical stonework were cut back to present raised pilasters which could be plastered up to; this plaster covering is now lost there. Two remarkable buildings illustrating this clever use of pilasters are the tower at Earls Barton (with associated arcading) and is also one of the best examples of intact plaster work, and the wonderful stone built chapel of St.Lawrence at Bradford-on-Avon with pilasters and associated arcading (and which will appear here in the list of photo files in Spring 2011).
Timber building techniques used in stone built fabric. Professor Warwick Rodwell, in his "Anglo-Saxon church building" raises some most interesting points, where timber joining techniques are translated into stone, with curious results. It appears perfectly plain that a race of people used to working with timber, carried forward their techniques and methods when building in stone. For a more expansive treatise upon this point see the section dealing with Earls Barton church (yet to appear on this site). For Barton-upon-Humber church see Rodwell's excellent report on the excavations there (iv). For photos of both churches go to photo pages.
Flint walling. Rodwell
 also explains how, in areas with a dearth of stone, such as Norfolk, but where flints were plentiful, the technique employed was to raise the walls between timber shuttering, see his Anglo-Saxon church building. He also explains how, in stone walling, 'heap' building in rubble may be identified. It is even possible to differentiate walling raised using unskilled labour and that built by skilled masons, sometimes the different work adjoining, and even levelled off at the end of the days work by the skilled worker. This makes sense since unskilled men would be labouring under the supervision of trained masons, as found throughout the ages and into modern times. He explains how breaks between different days work can also be identified. Unfortunately we know too little about how masons were schooled in those days. Certainly there were skilled men versed in stonework in early days, witness the Syrian craftsmen active in Kent in the 7th century, and doubtless they were key in passing on the craft to the men labouring under their watch. It seems reasonable to assume that stone built churches/chapels were not uncommon in that time, and we do not know how much work has been lost, or indeed how much early walling actually comprises parts of church fabric standing today. I suspect it is more than we realise. However, it would take a knowledgeable man to be able to date walling without the attendant features (windows,doorways etc) and those have often been inserted at a later date in the original wall.
Roman features and characteristics. An example of this is the chancel arch of St. John's at Escomb (Co Durham). Tim Eaton explains in his book (ii) and which see page 146, that 'it is identified as Roman on the basis of the first of these: it is of typically Roman form, very tall with massive through-stone jambs, simple chamfered imposts and precision-cut, radial voussoirs, to be compared with the non-radial voussoirs that the Anglo-Saxons typically manufactured.' The Roman arch was removed from its original site and re-erected as a chancel arch. At Corbridgechurch the massive tower arch is Roman and has been lifted from nearby Coriosopitum. In some cases whole Roman columns were reused, as in the 11th century north and south arcades at St. Mary's Ickleton (Cambs), and which see 'Anglo-Saxon Architecture' Vol I by H.Taylor, pages 330-332. Roman columns were re-used to give access to north and south porticus at the ancient church of St. Wystan, Repton (Derbyshire) but have been removed to the porch. Reused stone which exhibits Roman carving and detail is to be found in the two (porticus) arches at Britford (Wilts). The chancel arch at Bosham church would appear to have reused Roman column imposts for the capitals, and at Sompting church (Sussex) in both capitals of the tower/nave arch there seems to be differently decorated stone 'inserted' (of a contrasting type/colour) which may well be Roman. In many other cases reused Roman stonework was used either for detail, or simply in the walling (as at Hexham for Wilfrid's crypt), and in other cases for entire churches (Escomb).
In many pre-conquest churches re-used Roman materials remain and we know that Roman buildings and cities were robbed of their materials. Certainly a race of people used to building in timber would hardly be likely (initially) to have the expertise to start quarrying stone, and in any case all through the centuries (Roman) building stone has certainly been re-used, although maybe not exclusively (ii). Certainly there were many tons of Roman stone to be had and in many cases the buildings were doubtless still standing when the Saxons were here. Many stonequarries were not reopened again until the 10th and 11th centuries. Take Old Sarum in Wiltshire for instance (although at a later period), where the old Norman city and its buildings were systematically dismantled and large amounts of ashlar was used in 13th century Salisbury. In the early 11th century the Anglo-Saxon abbots (Ealdred and Eadmer) of St. Albans were given licence to remove Roman stone and material from the 'ruins' of the city of nearby Verulamium and presumably this was used to build, or rebuild, their Abbey church. Roman materials seem to have been in plentiful supply, enough to last nearly 500 years! It should be noted that the massive columns of the Roman basilica at York stood in situ until 800, and it would be logical to assume that other Roman buildings stood until well into the Saxon period. The demise of any building is either termination of use, or it is physically worn out and unrepairable, and demolition (and reuse) may then follow (if not preceded by collapse). Not only was it convenient (and cost effective) to re-use prepared stone but there was the kudos of incorporating Roman stone from prime buildings. There are examples in later medieval times of whole, or substantial parts, of large houses being taken down and sold off by the owners (to cover debts) for every part of the fabric, bricks, stone, windows, and glass.
Losses of important fabric through demolition.
As a matter of course, bearing in mind the length of time Saxon buildings have been standing, much has been lost, or destroyed, either through the obvious rebuilding through the ages of a parish church which has grown too small for the growing population, or through neglect, or through deliberate design. In the last case scenario much was lost in the Victorian age, that time of great church building revival when a part or the entire fabric of a building was replaced. Let us now look at two instances of major demolitions of fabric, both lost within comparatively recent times.
Probably one of the greatest losses was the destruction of Reculver (Kent), the church dating from the 7th century. As Taylor mentioned in his book - “The wanton demolition in 1805 of St Mary’s church at Reculver, on the north coast of Kent between Herne Bay and Margate, was an act of vandalism for which there can be few parallels even in the blackest records of the nineteenth century.” The plate (right) shows the church in process of demolition, and in particular the three arch 'screen' separating the nave and chancel. The two Roman columns are today housed in the crypt of Canterbury cathedral, and were formerly in the cathedral close on the north side of the choir (having been rescued from a local garden!).
Another dreadful demolition occurred in 1841-2, the great Saxon nave at Lady St. Mary’s church, Wareham (Dorset), was taken down by the vicar because he wanted a new building with a gallery. He was removed shortly afterwards, but the dreadful damage had been done and we have regretably lost one of the top ten 'high status' buildings of Saxon date.
In the case of both Wareham and Reculver we mourn the passing of two wonderful buildings, again, both with arcades which originally, in all probability, led to side chapels and which included a north and south porticus.

Thursday, 14 June 2012


By Fr. Alexey Young

Source:  Orthodox Life, No. 1, 2001, p. 33-36.

For centuries it was firmly believed and taught that North America was discovered by Christopher Columbus. More recently, there has been general agreement that Norsemen or Vikings were probably on this continent around 1000 A.D. "But," as the editors of National Geographic magazine point out, "perhaps it was a group of shadowy, yet very real, Irish seafaring monks who predated even the Vikings by more than four centuries.[1] Indeed, there is evidence that this may be true.

In the twentieth century a number of scholars began to suspect that the early medieval saga known as the "Voyage of Saint Brendan the Abbot" (Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis) was not a "pious fable" at all, but the narration of an actual journey - a voyage by St. Brendan and a number of monks from Ireland to the east coast of North America, complete with accounts of what we can now identify as volcanic eruptions in Iceland, an encounter with a whale, and icebergs.

      Stamp, depicting St. Brendan discovering the Faroes and Iceland

Initially, this interpretation was dismissed because experts doubted that anyone could have crossed the Atlantic with the kind of primitive boat or leather-hulled "curragh" known to have been used by early Irish or Celtic sailors. They doubted, that is, until, in the 1970s, the British explorer, Timothy Severin, successfully crossed the ocean in a leather boat (a duplicate of St. Brendan's craft), proving "beyond doubt that the Irish monks could have sailed their leather boats to the New World before the Norsemen, and long before Columbus ...". Equally important, this showed that St. Brendan's voyage "was no mere splendid medieval fantasy, but a highly plausible tale ... founded upon real events and real people."[2]

Still, there was no actual evidence to show that any Europeans had been in North America as early as the sixth century, when Brendan's "Voyage" was said to have occurred.

And then, in 1982, a petroglyph - an inscription cut in the face of a cliff or rock - in Wyoming County, West Virginia, was recorded and identified. This site had been discovered in 1964, but it was not until 1970 that an archaeologist from the West Virginia Economic and Geological Survey studied it and concluded that this petroglyph (rock-carving) was at least five to seven hundred years old, if not older, and was in marked contrast to other known petroglyphs in the area. Twelve years later a prominent archaeologist with twenty-seven years of field experience, Robert L. Pyle, took a serious interest in the petroglyph. Dr. Pyle, who has a GS-9 rating as an archaeologist from the federal government and is authorized to do archaeological work on federal projects, had no particular agenda in mind - unlike Timothy Severin, who set out to prove that a primitive Celtic craft could make a trans-Atlantic voyage; Dr. Pyle simply wanted to scientifically and objectively determine, if possible, what this particular petroglyph was all about.

Chalked Wyoming County Petroglyph.
Credit: Gerald Ratliff

A prominent authority on ancient languages and an emeritus professor at Harvard, Dr. Barry Fell, was brought into the investigation. He concluded that these petroglyphs "appear to date from the6th-8th centuries A.D., and they are written in Old Irish language, employing an alphabet called Ogam, found also on ancient rock-cut inscriptions in Ireland ... [and in] a Dublin manuscript, known as the 'Ogam Tract,' composed by an unidentified monk in the fourteenth century.[3] The first surprise came when the message was deciphered:

"At the time of sunrise, a ray grazes the notch on the left side on Christmas Day, a Feast-day of the Church, the first seven of the [Christian] year, the season of the blessed advent of the Savior, Lord Christ. Behold, He is born of Mary, a woman." [4]

Three Celtic Chi Rho's (the Greek letters - "X" and "R" - for Christ) also appear on this petroglyph (far right).


The second surprise came when the investigators decided to test the inscription by calculating the Julian Calendar date for when the Feast of the Nativity would have fallen between 500 and 800 A.D. Thus, on December 22 (new style), 1982, they went to the site before dawn and watched and waited. Suddenly, as the sun came over a ridge, "a glimmer of pale sunlight struck the sun symbol on the left side of the petroglyph, and the rising sun soon bathed the entire panel in warm sunlight ... funneling through a three-sided notch formed by the rock overhang." [5]

Another inscription, called the Horse Creek Petroglyph (in Boone County, West Virginia), also yielded a Christian translation and the use of the Chi Rho.

Fig. N  Horse Creek Petroglyph
Photograph of Horse Creek Petroglyph.
Credit: Arnout Hyde, Jr.


Of course, further investigation and study of this fascinating subject is warranted, and important tests are pending on some artifacts found at these sites. But for now, we can say that a case is slowly but surely building for the existence of Celts - most likely monks - on this continent long before any others came from the West.

This is of particular interest because Celtic Christians were also Orthodox Christians - belonging to the one, true, and universal Church of Christ before the West fell away from the Orthodox Church in the tenth century. Their spirituality, far from being the fashionable "New Age spirituality" that many of today's writers anachronistically project back on to the ancient Celts, was thoroughly Orthodox in teaching as well as monastic and ascetic in practice.

Indeed, Fr. Gregory Telepneff, in his fascinating and scholarly study, The Egyptian Desert in the Irish Bogs, concludes that Celtic Christianity actually reveals "significant Coptic* [i.e. Egyptian] influence of a specifically monastic kind.[6]

*  OODE NOTE: "Copt"  is an Anglicization of the Arabic qubt. Copts are the direct descendants of the Ancient Egyptians. The Coptic (antichalcedonian) Church is the portion of the Church of Alexandria which broke away from the other Orthodox churches in the wake of the Fourth Ecumenical Council in Chalcedon in 451. Sharing a common heritage previously with the Orthodox (Chalcedonian) Church of Alexandria, it traces its origins to the Apostle Mark. The word "Coptic" was originally used to refer to (native) Egyptians in general , as is used in the text above, but it has undergone a semantic shift over the centuries to mean more specifically "Egyptian Christian". “ Following standard scholarly convention, Fr. Gregory Telepneff uses the word “Coptic” throughout his study as synonymous with “Egyptian,” i.e., as a general term indicating the ethnic descendants of ancient (pre-Christian) Egyptians and their distinct Afro-Asiatic tongue (now dead, save for liturgical usage). As such, the use of “Coptic” should not be confused with its more common popular meaning as a specific term designating Egyptian Antichalcedonians,  viz., members of the so-called Coptic Church.
These archaeological "finds" in West Virginia and elsewhere, which seem to point to a Celtic and monastic presence on this continent more than one thousand years ago, provide an imperative for Christians (whether Orthodox or not) to examine the Orthodox West (particularly in the lives of the saints) as it was before the Great SchismBecause that authentic and rich flowering of Orthodoxy, especially in Celtic Orthodox Christianity, is characterized by both asceticism and holiness, it can be as nurturing to the soul as it was to believers a millennium and more ago.


1. "Who Discovered America? A New Look at an Old Question," National Geographic, December 1977.
2. "The Voyage of Brendan," by Timothy Severin, ibid.
3. "Christian Messages in Old Irish Script Deciphered from Rock Carvings in W. Va.," by Dr. Barry Fell, Wonderful West Virginia, March 1983
4. Ibid.
5. "Light Dawns on West Virginia History," by Ida Jane Gallagher, Wonderful West Virginia, ibid.
6. Telepneff, Fr. Gregory, The Egyptian Desert in the Irish Bogs: The Byzantine Character of Early Celtic Monasticism, 1998


Wednesday, 13 June 2012

St Mary's Parish Church Ecclesfield Yorkshire

There is evidence that Christians worshipped on this site as long as 1500 years ago.

The Doomsday Book refers to Egglesfeld (meaning 'church in a field'), so it is likely that a
church existed here before the Norman Conquest in 1066.

In Anglo Saxon times, when parish boundaries were first marked out, Ecclesfield was
important enough to become the mother church of an enormous West Riding moorland
parish. It covered nearly 50,000 acres, stretching to the county boundaries and including

The earliest mention of a church here is in 1141 and traces of the Norman church still exist in the interior
of the present building. The early 14th century church had a similar plan to the present one with nave, aisles, crossing
and tower, transepts and chapels.

After the Norman Conquest, William de Lovetot (the Norman Lord of Hallamshire) gave
Ecclesfield to the Benedictine Abbey of St Wandrille, near Rouen in Normandy. It was some
time later that the monks first came to Ecclesfield; the exact date is unclear. There was
probably only a small cell of two or three. They never achieved any fame for their spiritual
influence and they were slack in their duties.
The building of the present church was begun in 1478 by the vicar, Thomas Clark. The
monks continued to be responsible for the chancel but the brunt of the cost was born by the
parishioners. The church was completed about 1500 and from the
outside is very similar to the largely perpendicular style building we see today.

This information from the excellent church website.

From Woden to Christ - the Conversion of England

"A shift from one religion to another is not like taking off one hat and putting on another. It is more like putting on a new head" (Robert Bartlett).

Robert Bartlett’s statement is intended as a warning to historical analysts who downplay the significance that religious conversion can have on a culture. One may interpret it as an argument that a nation cannot convert to another religion, the cultural values of which may have far reaching social and political significance on all levels of society, without becoming a new and different nation in the process. With specific reference to the conversion of Anglo-Saxon England, from Germanic paganism to Catholicism between the 5th and 6th centuries, I will explore this statement and consider its validity in an effort to better understand the two historical cultures involved.
Migration routes of the "English" peoples.

While Christianity is still practiced to this day, and information on its values and history are readily available, the details of the pre-Christian religions of Northern Europe are comparatively obscure. What we know about English paganism and the culture of those who practiced it is primarily sourced from speculative interpretation of archaeological finds combined with contemporary or near contemporary Christian literary sources like Bede’s Ecclesiastical history of the English People (8thcentury), Beowulf (8th-11th century) and The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (9thcentury).
“..the representations of pagan religion all come from hostile Christian sources, predominantly of a missionary nature. To seek to understand native paganism from missionary literature is a little like attempting to form a picture of twentieth-century British socialism from the speeches of Margaret Thatcher.” (Bartlett: 1998, p.56)
Despite the biased nature of the sources, one may reach some conclusions on the ideological nature of the pagan religion, by their recorded attitudes toward the new faith as well as the potential motives for conversion. The importance of the monarchy’s role in the conversion must not be underestimated despite the fact that the roots of monarchy are inherently anti-Christian in nature, with kings and noblemen tracing their heritage back to the war god Woden.
“The first chieftains are said to have been the brothers Hengist and Horsa...They were the sons of Wictgils, whose father was Witta, whose father was Wecta, son of Woden, from whose stock sprang the royal houses of many provinces.” (Bede: 1990, p.63)
7th century Anglo-Saxon belt buckle depicting Woden
These Pagan god-kings were proud of their heritage but were happy to marry Christians if it was politically advantageous, as it was for King Ethelbert in 597AD. He received his Christian wife, Bertha, of the Frankish royal house; on the condition that she could still practice her faith and that she would be accompanied by Bishop Liudhard (Bede: 1990, p.75)
The fact that pagans and Christians existed in the same household as well as the same marriage bed lends weight to the argument that early medieval England was a multi-faith society but the arrival of Christianity may not have been recognised as the arrival of an entirely new spiritual ideology, as King Redwald’s misinterpretation of monotheism demonstrates.
“... he tried to serve both Christ and the ancient gods, and he had in the same shrine an altar for the holy sacrifice of Christ side by side with a small altar on which victims were offered to devils.” (Bede: 1990, p.133)
Perhaps it was this willingness to incorporate the perceived power of new deities into their existing pantheons which enabled Christianity to get a foothold in Northern Europe. The wealth and power of Rome attracted barbarian merchants who may have been influenced by the new faith. This was the case for the Swedes, whose religion was similar to that of the English.
“..the Swedes ‘decided to enquire by lots whether their gods were willing to help them....after the lots had been cast, they were not able to find any god willing to bring them aid...’ Finally, some of the Swedes who had traded in Western Europe suggested trying ‘the god of the Christians’. (Bartlett:1998, p59)
Though it is the case for these Swedish pagans, it cannot be said that all pagans were as willing to dabble in the mysticism of Christianity, particularly as many converts were persecuted.
“Converts to Christianity were frequently reproached by fellow pagans for abandoning ‘the laws of their fathers’ or the ‘laws of the father-land” (Bartlett: 1998, p75)
These pagan traditions permeated not only the spiritual dimension but also the social hierarchy of English societies, so that even when the church succeeded in converting a king, rebellion and relapse into paganism were still a threat.
“Not long after Earpwald’s acceptance of Christianity, he was killed by a pagan named Ricbert, and for three years the province relapsed into heathendom.” (Bede: 1990, p.132)
Even the converted royal houses themselves were prone to relapse. This was the case for the Christian King Sabert of the East Saxons, who left his three pagan sons to inherit his kingdom. The sons believed that the Eucharist would strengthen them, but refused to be baptised. Bishop Mellitus would not allow them to take the bread and water and so he and his followers were banished from Essex. (Bede: 1990, p.112)
Bede also tells of how king Edwin of Northumbria converted to Christ as did Coifi, the high priest of the pagan temple there. Bede’s telling of the story depicts Coifi as an antagonist who leads the way for Christian conversion, “I submit that the temples and altars that we have dedicated to no advantage be immediately desecrated and burned.’ (Bede: 1990)
One would imagine that if both the high priest and the ruler of a kingdom were to abandon the old religion, it was surely doomed. It is of interest therefore, that Edwin’s successors reverted to paganism as though these events had never occurred.
“As soon as they had obtained control of their earthly kingdoms, however, both these kings apostatized from the faith of the kingdom of heaven which they had accepted, and reverted to the corruption and damnation of their former idolatry.” (Bede: 1990, p.143)
The causes of conversion and relapse were varied, but similar in each case. While conversion may secure stronger allegiances and trade routes with Southern Europe, it may also aggravate the native aristocracy who were prone to violent rebellion and could have considered Christianity to be a sign of weakness in their leader.
“Sigbert, king of the East Saxons, was murdered by his kinsmen, and when they were asked why they had done it, they had no better answer than that they were incensed ‘because he was too apt to spare his enemies and forgive the wrongs they had done him.’ Barbarian society imposed a positive duty of revenge on all men,” (Mayr-Harting: 1991, p.20)
The clergy could depict victory or defeat in battle as evidence of the power of the Christian God. This strategy was particularly effective in the case of King Edwin. “The king ...promised that if God would grant him life and victory over... his enemy..., he would renounce his idols and serve Christ.” (Bede: 1990) This was a bold promise, and one that risked backfiring if misfortune were to befall the Christian converts, as it did to those in Essex in 665AD when a plague caused a relapse into paganism (Bede:1990).
Widespread destruction of temples and idols, as executed by Earconbert, King of Kent in 640AD (Bede: 1990), is likely to have been a more powerful and enduring method of converting the heathens and preventing relapse.
Upon hearing of the relapses and failed conversions in England, Bishop Aidan of Ireland, a great stronghold of Christianity in North-Western Europe, recommended a less aggressive method of persuading pagans to convert, as related by Bede in the ecclesiastical history.
“You should have followed the examples of the Apostles, and begun by giving them the milk of simpler teaching, and gradually nourished them with the word of God until they were capable of greater perfection and able to follow the loftier precepts of Christ.” (Bede: 1990 p.151)
The Ruthwell cross - combines pagan and Christian imagery, 7th century
Though in some cases the rulers of England may have heeded Aidan’s words, the conversion of a leader to the new faith would undoubtedly have had negative consequences for any heathens living in that region, as it did for those in Kent after King Ethelbert’s conversion in the late 6th century. Though he did not force pagans to convert, he showed “greater favour to believers, because they were fellow citizens of the kingdom of heaven.” (Bede: 1990, p.77)
The process of conversion was not only instigated by missionaries from Ireland or Rome. It could also, as previously mentioned, come from within the royal house. Christian royalty could be subject to pressure from the English church, or even from Rome directly, to convert their kinsmen. Pope Boniface’s letter to Queen Ethelberga, regarding her pagan husband, unapologetically manipulates the institutions of both marriage and monarchy in an effort to pressure her into converting the King. (Bede: 1990, p.124)
The Pope’s Letters that Bede included in his ecclesiastical history show the military and political power Rome was able to exert on the English populace through the monarchy. A letter from Pope Gregory to Abbot Mellitus, written in 601AD, requests that the temples of the English idols are not to be destroyed, but instead only the idols destroyed and replaced with altars, holy water and relics.(Bede: 1990, p.92) Bede may have intended the letter to be evidence of a peaceful conversion but it seems likely there would have been those who opposed the destruction of the idols.
Saxon Gold cross - 7th century
Legal and military power had to be exerted to deprive the people of their old ways. The preservation of the pagan religions of Europe depended on oral traditions of storytelling, folk customs and songs that were passed down through generations. “One thing that Christianity did offer that must be mentioned at once – a thing that, in the main, the older religions did not – was literacy,” (Bartlett: 1998, p56)
Without written histories to preserve the old ways, they were more vulnerable to the effects of persecution. Christianity thrives in such adverse conditions; its message is preserved in the Bible. This was not the case for paganism. English law was implemented in such a way that favoured the converted over the heathen and also made practice of the English religion dangerous.
“Injunctions against tree worship, well worship and stone worship begin in England in the first generations of the new Church and continue in an unbroken series down to the Reformation, and beyond.” (Bartlett: 1998, p71)
The monarchs who were willing to submit their people to these injunctions did not decide to do so lightly. Indeed, there are some instances when instigating conversion may have put their very lives at risk. Ultimately, however, we can be sure that the benefits outweighed the dangers to these Kings, or they would never have converted.
“ was worth having the notice of the pope and being drawn closer to the civilised and wealthy axis of Mediterranean life. More particularly... the Christian god seemed to serve his adherents well in battle.” (Mayr-Harting: 1991, p.63)
One may compare the difficult decisions that the Anglo-Saxon rulers had to make to those of modern Sheikhs in the Middle East, whose loyalties to the conventionally Islamic populace are sometimes at odds with their desire to play a more significant role in international commerce and the global political stage. While conversion triggered rebellions among the general populace and even the aristocracy, the kings had economic and political interests to consider. They could not pass up on an opportunity to establish a more lucrative relationship with the Christian nations of the Mediterranean.
“The church offered a symbolic and factual connection with pan-continental politico-cultural norms.” (Urbanczyk in Carver: 2003, p.16)
The wealth of the South was not the only appeal of Christianity to the previously pagan rulers. The literary nature of the religion required a literate priestly cast, fluent in both Latin and English, who required the protection of the monarchy to be able to spread their religion without fear of persecution. The relationship between the clergy and the monarchy has therefore been close from the very beginning. “From the start the church acknowledged its helplessness without the support and protection of kings.” (Mayr-Harting: 1991) The kings were aware of this but stood to benefit as much as the clergy. The new era of bureaucracy that the pan-continental religion ushered in, provided a means for the monarchy to secure its power.
“The advice and legal knowledge of churchmen enabled kings to show forth their kingship in a new way by the issue of codes of law, which became increasingly sophisticated; churches provided honourable resting places for kings and queens, and ensured the permanence of their fame.; the fortunes of individual kings could be radically affected by their association with saints,” (Mayr-Harting: 1991, p.249)
Though the benefits that Christianity offered the rulers of England were enough to encourage them to convert and cause their kingdoms to follow suit, they were not sufficient to cause a complete overhaul of the pagan culture. Even today, the days of the week are named after the pagan gods and the dates of the Christian festivals are fixed upon dates already associated with ancient pagan celebrations (Hutton: 2000:285).
As mentioned previously, the church was keen to incorporate certain aspects of the pre-Christian culture in an effort to minimise cultural disruption and the likelihood of pagan rebellion and spiritual relapse. This was important to the process of conversion but also allowed for religious misinterpretation and the preservation of stubbornly enduring cultural habits. “By the ninth century kings underwent a Christian ceremony of consecration and anointing, but they continued to trace their genealogies back to Woden.” (Mayr-Harting: 1991, p.220)
It can be argued that the enduring influence of Woden on monarchic inheritance was not so much the residual pagan culture corrupting the new Christian one, but rather the continuation of a political tradition that saw a close relationship between state and religious authority.
“In pre-Christian societies individuals who aspired to dominating social positions could strengthen their power by combining the functions of military political leadership with religious leadership.” (Urbanczyk in Carver: 2003, p.19)
Not only was Roman Catholicism in England influenced by the existing cultural traditions of pagan England, but it had also previously been influenced by Temple Judaism and by Roman paganism. While human sacrifice was prevalent throughout most of pagan Europe (Bartlett :1998)it had also been practiced in temple Judaism.
“Christianity is the direct descendant of a religion – Temple Judaism – that had given a central place to animal sacrifice...This was not a feature it perpetuated ...Yet Christians were rooted in a sacrificial tradition that left an imprint on their language and thought. Although no animals or humans were to be sacrificed to God, the terminology and concept of sacrifice was not abandoned but deepened.” (Bartlett: 1998, p.64)
Though the pagan traditions of human and animal sacrifice had been abolished, the converted English were likely to have been familiar with the nomenclature of sacrifice and sacred blood that is associated with Catholicism. Sacrifice may well have been the most significant spiritual act that a pagan could make. It is an activity that sunk from a sacred act to one of barbaric ignorance in the minds of the converted populace, but through the terminology of Christ’s sacrifice and the Catholic practice of making offerings to Saints, it has endured into the Christian era.
“The distinction between Christianity and paganism is not between a non-sacrificial religion and a sacrificial religion but between two rival conceptions of sacrifice.” (Bartlett, 1998, p.66)
Such evidence of pagan influence on Christianity defies Bartlett’s statement in the title of this essay and could lead one to believe that the process of religious conversion was an insignificant occurrence to some people. But while the pagan reactions to the new religion were varied, some regarding it as an invasive ideology, others merely as the introduction of yet another deity to their pantheon, the way that Christians regarded the pagans was uniform. “Paganism was indeed understood by Christian thinkers as worship of demons.” (Bartlett: 1998)
So previously law abiding serfs were rendered heretics and witches as a result of the conversion. As a result, it is safe to assume, that many of the old folk customs associated with paganism were destroyed. Though, conversely, Christianity also provided a new legal framework which preserved many of the historic customs of freemen and serfs, which may have previously been vulnerable to shifts in monarchic power. It was the arrival of Christianity that initiated the process by which folk customs became the king’s law (Fletcher, 1997, P118).
The era when these conversions were taking place was one of significant cultural upheavals. Both paganism and Christianity were malleable ideologies, in a state of flux. Pagans were adapting to the arrival of the new Eastern religion, some by incorporating it into the existing spiritual ideology, others through militant rebellion.
The Christian religion was the subject of much debate around Europe, hundreds of years before the arrival of the Cathars and later the Protestants, the Roman Catholic Church had to suppress Arianism in order to protect the notion of the holy trinity and its ideological and political hegemony across Europe. With Arianism being particularly popular amongst the Germanic peoples, it is little wonder that Rome was keen to bring Britannia, the old Roman colony seized by warlike Germanic tribes, back into their influence before Arianism could take hold. Pope Gregory was well aware that by the 590’s, England was the only successor state that was yet to adopt Christianity (Fletcher, 1997, p.114).

The conversion had both positive and negative implications at all levels of society, and while we can see how the religions influenced each other, it surely caused a significant cultural upheaval in England. Bartlett said it was more like putting on a new head, than a new hat, meaning that the conversion was not merely a superficial change in spiritual aesthetics, but an entirely new cultural tradition. The arrival of the clergy meant an increased influence of foreign power, but it also presented an opportunity for freed slaves and serfs to climb the ranks of society, through devotion to the new God. It created a new social hierarchy, based less on war and heritage and more on literacy and learning.

“The matter of cult, and especially liturgy became the domain of properly prepared specialists who had a monopoly of the interpretation of reality.” (Urbanczyk in Carver: 2003, p.22)

The new hierarchy installed was perhaps the most significant change brought by conversion. The conversion was far from a linear process and is complicated further by the reintroduction of paganism from Scandinavia during the Viking age, beginning in 793. These complications require a clear definition of what is meant by a Christian people. When defining a people as Christian, it is not necessary in this instance for them to follow the word of Christ or even to understand it properly; it can be more simply identified as an absence of pagan worship as the result of Christian law or teaching.

Regardless of what measures the church took to soften the blow of conversion, it still signified a major ideological and cultural change for the people of England. The centres of worship were destroyed, the religious authorities were replaced and the new religion was communicated in a language that few people understood. The ancient practices of sacrifice and divination were abolished (Bartlett: 1998) and though some pagan habits remained, such as the oral tradition of storytelling, overtime many of them were also brought into question. By 797, Catholic monks in Lindisfarne regarded the Viking raids as evidence of God’s anger at them for listening to heathen poems at dinner. (Mayr-Harting: p225)

The conversion from paganism to Christianity was by no means clean cut, but despite this I believe it is more accurately compared to putting on a new head with new ideas allowing for the evolution of a new type of society, rather than merely the putting on of a new hat, creating only the outward appearance of change. The shift from paganism, with ritual sacrifices and kings descended from gods, to Christianity with its literary tradition and kings devoted to God and the Roman Catholic Church, was immense. Though the Anglo-Saxons remained a war like people, divided by tribal loyalties, their conversion to Christianity was a step toward the formation of the English nation.

ROBERT BARTLETT, 'Reflections on Paganism & Christianity in Medieval Europe' in Proceedings of the British Academy, 101 (1998) pp. 55-76 [on German conversions & E Europe]
HUTTON, R. 2000. The Pagan Religions of the ancient British isles. First ed 1991. Oxford:Blackwell.
HENRY MAYR- HARTING, 'The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England, (3rd ed. Philadelphia, 1991) Bath Press
URBANCZYK, in MARTIN CARVER (ed), ‘The Cross Goes North’ (2003). York Medieval Press.
LEO SHIRLEY-PRICE (translator), BEDE ‘Ecclesiastical History of the English people, (1990). Penguin.
ALCUIN, Vita Willibrodi archiepiscopi Traiectensis, 11, ed. W. Levison, MGH, Scriptores rerum merovingicarum
RICHARD FLETCHER, 'The Conversion of Europe' (London, 1997