Email: Evidence of Early Christianity in the British Isles (29.3.2021)

Roman Villas in the UK are Full of Beautiful Mosaics (Not All Christian)!

Dear Gillan 

Julius Caesar had tried to invade Britain around 55 BCE and was beaten-back by the Celtic tribes – (and it would take yet another one-hundred-years before the Romans were able to establish an imperial foot-hold amongst the ancient Celtic tribes). I have looked around a number of Roman villas (English Heritage Member) all dated between 100-400 CE – and in many there is evidence of a Christian presence. Not in all Roman villas, obviously, but enough to show that the general Roman citizenry knew of Christianity and were happy to spread it throughout the Empire. This evidence in the UK probably dates between 200-400 CE to be more precise. However, these upper-class Romans treated Christianity as one religion amongst many – and perhaps only included its symbolism in their shrine rooms as a type of superstition. A ‘comfort’ rather than a ‘practice’ – as I cannot remember any Bibles or Christian texts being found anywhere in these villas.  

Roman Mosaics with Christian Iconography!

The educated Romans probably received a type of Early Christianity through word-of-mouth transmission before a proper Bible or even theology had been written, constructed or even formulated. This might indicate the original simplicity of the appeal of Jesus in a society where many ordinary people could not read and write. It is hard to be sure because all we have is the mute archaeology. Those Romans living in the villas definitely possessed the Greek habit of an eclectic approach to religious worship and spiritual practice. The spacious ‘shrine rooms’ found in the British Roman villas existed on the very frontiers of the Roman Empire and tended to visually record the symbolism of all the different religions practiced throughout the distinct realms of the conquered lands – often in the form of wall-mounted (and floor constructed) mosaics of highly precise and ornate iconology! Was this a spiritual exercise emphasising religious ‘integration’, or was it more a statement of the Imperial dominance of Rome? Was it a type of ‘boasting’ or an expression of a genuine interest in contemporary spirituality?  

Many Different Symbols – Lullingstone Roman Villa

Whatever the case, this Roman habit has provided evidence of Early Christianity a) existing, and b) spreading to the fringes of the Roman Empire! This demonstrates that Christianity was in the British Isles between 100-400 CE (the time-span of the Roman presence in the UK) which is prior to the arrival-development of Celtic-Christianity (500-800 CE). The use of Roman building practices is more than likely (by the Celtic Christians to design their monastery complexes) as this was the only suitable ‘civic’ example available outside of the extant (and more primitive) tribal dwelling structures favoured by those not influenced by the Greco-Roman tradition – the latter exhibiting a different grasp of the nature of reality. (The circle over the cross, equality over hierarchy, shamans over priests and sacrifices over contemplation, etc). 

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