A Century of English Sanctity
It is often asserted, especially by Roman Catholics, that the earliest form of Christianity in the British Isles was Roman Catholicism. However, this is not true. Until the middle of the eleventh century, the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Western Roman Church were united and confessed essentially the same faith – Orthodox Christianity. Thus the characteristically Roman Catholic doctrines of the infallibility of the pope, the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son, purgatory, indulgences and created grace, only became established in the West after the western schism of 1054. It follows that the Church that existed in the British Isles until the schism was the Orthodox Church.
The history of the Orthodox Church in the British Isles up to the Western schism can be roughly divided into five periods:
A. The Apostolic Period (1st century).
B. The Roman Period (to the departure of the Roman legions in 410).
C. The Celtic Period (5th to 7th centuries).
D.The Early Anglo-Saxon Period (7th to 9th centuries).
E. The Later Anglo-Saxon Period (9th to 11th centuries).
A. The Apostolic Period. Little is known about the apostolic period in British Church history. Various traditions that are difficult to confirm relate that the Apostles Peter, Paul and Simon the Zealot came to the British Isles. A stronger tradition exists that the Apostle of the Seventy Aristobulus, the brother of St. Barnabas, was sent to Britain by St. Paul and became the first Orthodox bishop in the islands. According to the Greek Synaxarion, he was martyred by “savage Britons”. There is also a strong tradition that St. Joseph of Arimathaea came to England via the Balearic Isles and settled in what is now the town of Glastonbury, where he founded a small monastic community and built the first church dedicated to the Mother of God in the whole of the West. This church, built of wood and wattles, survived for over a thousand years until it was burned down in the 12th century. St. Joseph is also reported as having brought with him an icon of the Mother of God which was destroyed in the Protestant Reformation, and a staff which, when planted in the ground, grew into a tree. This was cut down at the Reformation, but cuttings from it were re-planted, and continue to flower this day on Old Calendar Christmas Day (December 25 / January 7). St. Joseph died in about 82, bringing the apostolic period to an end.
B. The Roman Period. Late in the second century, a local British king called Lucius asked the Roman Pope Eleutherius to send missionaries to his land – evidently the seed planted by the Apostles was on the point of dying out. Missionaries came, and built churches in London, Glastonbury and other places. The faith revived, and in about 209 the first recorded British martyr, Alban, was killed for the faith in the Roman city of Verulamium (now St. Albans). In the third century, both Tertullian and Origen mention the existence of the Church in Britain. However, physical evidence for the growth of British Christianity is sparse until late in the fourth century, when the first stone church in the British Isles was built in Southern Scotland by St. Ninian. Archaeologists have also discovered the remains of small house churches in Roman villas in the south of England, together with some Christian frescoes and church utensils (baptismal fonts, church plate, etc.). Towards the end of the Roman period, there were several rebellions by the leaders of the Roman armies in Britain against Rome, and in 410 the Emperor Honorius finally withdrew the Roman legions from “the Roman island”, as St. Jerome called it.
C. The Celtic Period. Left to themselves, the British Roman Christians were able to maintain their way of life, albeit at a lower material level, for about half a century. However, the invasions of the Angles and Saxons from the continent, and of the Irish and Picts from the north, gradually led to a disintegration of British Christian life. Many fled west, to the mountains of Wales, where the beginnings of what is now called the Celtic Church were formed. At the same time, a British Christian, St. Patrick, founded the Orthodox Church of Ireland. The famous British King Arthur defeated the invading Saxons several times, guaranteeing a period of peace in the early sixth century. However, by the middle of the century, the advance of the pagan Saxons began again, and the British monk St. Gildas, in his work On the Destruction of Britain, castigated the sinful life of the kings and priests of Britain, blaming them for the disaster. Paradoxically, however, it is at this time that the golden age of the Celtic Church begins, with many holy monastic saints glorifying the Churches of Wales, South-West England, Scotland, Ireland and Brittany (in north-west France). The earliest full-length life of a British saint, St. Samson, Bishop of Dol, was written in about 600, and early in the eighth century St. Adomnan, Abbot of Iona, wrote the famous Life of St. Columba (+597), the apostle of Scotland. The Church of Ireland flourished through extensive contacts and exchanges with the Coptic Church of Egypt. And many Irish monks, not content to remain in their own lands, initiated a great missionary movement in all directions – to the south and east, where they founded many monasteries in Western and Central Europe, to the north, where they penetrated to Iceland, Greenland and North-West Russia (Celtic symbols have been found at Valaam monastery), and even to the west (Irish inscriptions have been found in Newfoundland in Canada and Virginia in the United States). Early in the seventh century Irish monks from the great Scottish monastery of Iona led by St. Aidan, Bishop of Lindisfarne, set about converting the Angles of Southern Scotland and Northern England. There they encountered Roman missionaries sent by St. Gregory the Great, Pope of Rome, who had started a very successful mission in Southern England in 597 under the leadership of St. Augustine, first archbishop of Canterbury. The Roman and Irish monks had different practices with regard to baptism, the monastic tonsure and the date of Pascha, and a Council was held at Whitby in Yorkshire in 664 to resolve these differences. The Council decided to accept the Roman-Byzantine practices and calendar. However, some Celtic churchmen resisted these changes, while the Church of Wales went into schism for over a century… The Celtic Churches continued in existence for several more centuries, but from the eighth century the focus shifts from them to their Anglo-Saxon converts…
D. The Early Anglo-Saxon Period. In the period 597 to 664, most of England was converted to Orthodoxy by Irish and Roman missionaries (with help from France), and by the second half of the seventh century the Anglo-Saxons were producing great saints of their own, such as St. Wilfrid, Bishop of York, and St. Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne. An important part in this remarkably rapid process of conversion – comparable only, perhaps, to the conversion of the Russians four centuries later – was contributed by a Greek, St. Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, who organized the diocesan and parish system of the new Anglo-Saxon Church, gave her a penitential discipline and founded an important school for the study of Greek, Latin and the ecclesiastical sciences in Canterbury. Another important school of learning was founded in the north, where the holy monk known as the Venerable Bede (+735) wrote theological treatises, commentaries on many books of the Bible, lives of the saints, and a famous History of the English Church and People. He also made the first translation of the Gospel of St. John into Anglo-Saxon. In the middle of the eighth century, hundreds of English monks and nuns poured across the English Channel to preach the Gospel to their brethren on the continent.
Under the inspired leadership of the English St. Boniface, Archbishop of Mainz and Apostle of Germany (+755), many monasteries were built in the thick woods of Germany, bringing forth abundant fruit to Christ. However, towards the end of the century, sign of decay appeared in the English Church, and in 793 the Vikings of Scandinavia attacked and destroyed the great monastery of Lindisfarne. During the course of the next eighty years, all of the seven English kingdoms fell prey to the Viking armies until, in the winter of 877-78, with the English King Alfred in hiding and most of the English monasteries destroyed and their monks and nuns killed or raped, it looked as if English Christian civilization had come to an end.
E. The Later Anglo-Saxon Period. However, in one of the most astonishing reversals in Christian history, King Alfred, inspired by a vision from St. Cuthbert, emerged from his hiding place, defeated the Danish “Great Army” and baptised their king. Then, almost single-handedly, he proceeded to resurrect English Orthodox Christianity and statehood, even translating church books from Latin into English and sending them to his bishops. In the tenth century the English recovery continued under Alfred’s successors, until, by the 970s, the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom, uniting Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and Danish populations, emerged as probably the most powerful and civilized country in Western Europe. However, in 979 the young King Edward “the Martyr” was killed, marking the beginning of the end of Anglo-Saxon England. The Vikings invaded again, and in 1016 they conquered the whole country while the English Royal Family went into exile in France. However, the Danish King Canute, who ruled Denmark and Norway as well as England, was converted to the faith of his new subjects, and did not hinder the conversion of Scandinavia by English missionaries. Finally, in 1042, the last descendant of the old English royal line, St. Edward “the Confessor”, returned from exile and was anointed king. During his reign, in 1052, the English Church was excommunicated by the Pope of Rome, who was then himself excommunicated by the Great Church of Constantinople in 1054.
In January, 1066, King Edward died, having prophesied the fall of Orthodox England. Almost immediately, the Viking Duke William of Normandy laid claim to the throne. When the English people rejected his claim and elected King Edward’s brother-in-law Harold instead, William appealed to the Pope, who blessed him to invade “schismatic” England and its unlawful king. On October 14, in a desperate battle that lasted all day, the Normans defeated the English at Hastings and killed King Harold. In January, 1067 William was crowned in London as the first Catholic king of England, and proceeded to destroy English Orthodox civilization to its foundations, killing perhaps twenty percent of the population – the first genocide in European history. Most of the English aristocracy fled to Constantinople, where the Emperor Alexis gave them a basilica in which to worship and enrolled them in his army. Harold’s daughter, Gytha, fled to Kiev, where she married Great Prince Vladimir Monomakh.
Thus ended the history of the Anglo-Saxon Orthodox Church. The fact that its remnants fled, not to heretical Rome, but to the Orthodox capitals of Constantinople and Kiev, showed that their faith was the same as that of the Orthodox East. The lives of the saints included this book provide further evidence that Britain until the time of the western schism in the eleventh century was Orthodox Christian. This book is a collection of 100 lives of saints who struggled in England in the Orthodox period of her history – that is, before the Norman Conquest of 1066. Their sanctity is witnessed by their presence on pre-Conquest calendars or whose pre-Conquest cult is testified in other documents such as The Resting Places of the Saints.
Most are English, but several are foreigners who came and died here, or whose relics came to rest here permanently (such as St. Melor). Saints who died in the Channel Islands, the Scilly Isles or the Isle of Man are included, as well as saints who, while dying abroad, spent most of their life or activity in England. Also included are St. Olaf of Norway and St. Sigfrid of Sweden because of their close association with, and membership of, the English Church. However, other saints who died in other parts of the British Isles, in Brittany, or on the Dutch or German mission-fields are not included. Also excluded are the long lives of major saints which have already been published in good English translations, such as Saints Cuthbert, Wilfrid and Guthlac.
The aim of the book is to give a panorama of the sanctity of Orthodox England, and to stimulate the veneration of saints who are little known even in England.
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, haver mercy on us!
June 5/18, 2013.
St. Boniface, Apostle of Germany and Patron of the English Church.
East House, Beech Hill, Mayford, Woking, Surrey. United Kingdom.
- Saints Acca And Alcmund, Bishops Of Hexham
- Saint Adrian, Abbot Of Canterbury
- Saint Aelfheah, Hieromartyr Archbishop Of Canterbury
- Saint Aelfheah “The Bald”, Bishop Of Winchesterl
- Saint Aelgifu, Abbess Of Shaftesbury
- Saint Aethelbert, Martyr-King Of East Anglia
- Saints Aethelred And Aethelbricht, Martyr-Princes Of Kent
- Saint Aethelred, Martyr-King Of Wessex
- Saint Aethelweald, Hermit Of Farne
- Saint Aethelwold, Bishop Of Winchester
- Saints Aidan, Finan, Edbert, Edfrith And Ethilwald, Bishops Of Lindisfarne
- Saint Ailwin, Hermit Of Athelney
- Saint Alban, Protomartyr Of Britain
- Saint Alcmund, Martyr-King Of Northumbria
- Saint Aldhelm, Bishop Of Sherborne
- Saint Alfred, Martyr-Prince Of England
- Saint Augulus, Hieromartyr Bishop Of Augusta
- Saints Augustine, Laurence, Mellitus, Justus, Honorius And Deusdedit, Archbishops Of Canterbury
- Saint Bede “The Venerable” Of Jarrow
- Saint Benignus Of Glastonbury
- Saint Benedict Biscop, Abbot Of Wearmouth And Jarrow
- Saint Bertram Of Ilam And Stafford
- Saint Birinus, Bishop Of Dorchester-On-Thames
- Saints Botolph, Abbot, And Adolph, Bishop, Of Ikanhoe
- Saint Cedd, Bishop Of London
- SAINT CEOLFRITH, ABBOT OF WEARMOUTH AND JARROW
- SAINT CEOLWULF, MONK OF LINDISFARNE
- SAINT CHAD, BISHOP OF LICHFIELD AND MARYTR-PRINCES WULFAD AND RUFINUS OF MERCIA
- SAINT CLYDOG, MARTYR-PRINCE OF HEREFORDSHIRE
- SAINT CONGAR, BISHOP OF CONGRESBURY
- SAINT CONSTANTINE, MONK-MARTYR OF CORNWALL
- SAINT CREDAN, ABBOT OF EVESHAM
- SAINT CUTHBURGA, ABBESS OF WIMBORNE
- SAINT CUTHMANN, HERMIT OF STEYNING
- SAINTS CYNEBURGA, CYNESWITHA, ABBESSES, AND TIBBA, NUN, OF MERCIA
- SAINT DECUMAN, MONK-MARTYR OF WATCHET
- SAINT DIUMA, BISHOP OF MERCIA
- SAINT DUNSTAN, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
- SAINT EANSWYTHE, ABBESS OF FOLKESTONE
- SAINT EATA, BISHOP OF HEXHAM
- SAINT EBBA, ABBESS OF COLDINGHAM
- SAINT EDBURGA, ABBESS OF REPTON
- SAINT EDBURGA, NUN OF WINCHESTER
- SAINT EDGAR “THE PEACEABLE”, KING OF ENGLAND
- SAINTS EDITH AND EDITH OF POLESWORTH
- SAINT EDITH, NUN OF WILTON
- SAINT EDMUND, MARTYR-KING OF EAST ANGLIA
- SAINT EDWARD THE CONFESSOR, KING OF ENGLAND
- SAINT EDWARD THE MARTYR, KING OF ENGLAND
- SAINT EDWIN, MARTYR-KING OF NORTHUMBRIA
- SAINT EDWOLD, HERMIT OF CERNE
- SAINT EGWIN, BISHOP OF WORCESTER
- SAINTS ERKENWALD, BISHOP OF LONDON, AND ETHELBURGA, ABBESS OF BARKING
- SAINTS ETHELFLEDA AND MORWENNA, ABBESSES OF ROMSEY
- SAINT FELIX, BISHOP OF DUNWICH
- SAINT FRIDESWIDE, ABBESS OF OXFORD
- SAINT FURSEY, ABBOT OF BURGH CASTLE
- SAINT GRIMBALD, ABBOT OF WINCHESTER
- SAINT HAROLD, MARTYR-KING OF ENGLAND
- SAINTS HEDDA, FRITHESTAN AND BIRNSTAN, BISHOPS OF WINCHESTER
- SAINT HELIER, MONK-MARTYR OF JERSEY
- SAINT HILDA, ABBESS OF WHITBY
- SAINT HYBALD, ABBOT OF HYBALDSTOW
- SAINT IWI, HIERODEACON OF LINDISFARNE
- SAINT JOHN OF BEVERLEY, BISHOP OF YORK
- SAINT KENELM, MARTYR-KING OF MERCIA
- SAINT LIDE, BISHOP OF THE SCILLY ISLES
- SAINT LUCIUS, KING IN BRITAIN
- SAINT MAGLORIUS, BISHOP OF SARK
- SAINT MAUGHOLD, BISHOP OF THE ISLE OF MAN
- SAINT MELOR, MARTYR-PRINCE OF BRITTANY
- SAINT MILDBURGA, ABBESS OF MUCH WENLOCK
- SAINT MILDGYTHA, NUN, OF NORTHUMBRIA
- SAINT MILDRED, ABBESS OF THANET IN KENT
- SAINTS MODWENNA AND HARDULF OF BURTON-ON-TRENT
- SAINT NECTAN, MONK-MARTYR OF HARTLAND
- SAINT NEOT, ABBOT OF CORNWALL
- SAINT NON, NUN OF CORNWALL
- SAINT ODA “THE GOOD”, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
- SAINT OLAF, MARTYR-KING OF NORWAY
- SAINT OSWALD, MARTYR-KING OF NORTHUMBRIA
- SAINT OSWALD, ARCHBISHOP OF YORK
- SAINT OSYTH, MARTYR-ABBESS OF CHICH
- SAINTS PAULINUS AND ITHAMAR, BISHOPS OF ROCHESTER
- SAINT PEGA, HERMITESS OF PEAKIRK
- SAINT PETROC, ABBOT OF PADSTOW
- SAINT RUMWOLD, INFANT OF BUCKINGHAM
- SAINTS SIDWELL AND JUTHWARA, VIRGIN-MARTYRS OF EXETER
- SAINTS SIGBERT AND SEBBI, MONKS OF EAST ANGLIA
- SAINT SIGFRID, BISHOP OF VAXJO
- SAINT SWITHUN, BISHOP OF WINCHESTER
- SAINT THEODORE, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
- SAINT WALSTAN OF TAVERHAM
- SAINT WENDREDA, HERMITESS OF MARCH
- SAINT WERBURGA, ABBESS OF CHESTER
- SAINT WISTAN, MARTYR-KING OF MERCIA
- SAINT WITHBURGA, HERMITESS OF EAST DEREHAM
- SAINT WULFHILDA, ABBESS OF BARKING
- SAINT WULSIN, BISHOP OF SHERBORNE
- SAINT IVO, BISHOP OF ST. IVE’S