Celtic and Roman Christianity

The first Christianity in what was to become Northumbria arrived in Roman times. Constantine who had been declared Roman Emperor in York had made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire of which we were a part of their North-West frontier. A Christian church has been found at Vindolanda.

The Britons and Welsh remained Christian after the Romans left. Bede criticizes them for not trying to convert the pagan English when they arrived.
The first Northumbrian King,the pagan Aethelfrith slaughtered the British monks of Bangor


The Northumbrian King Edwin married a Christian princess from Kent where the people had been converted by Saint Augustine. She brought north her priest, Paulinus. Eventually Edwin was baptized in York 627AD with many of his people. Paulinus baptised more people at Yeavering in Northumberland and at Catterick and he is associated with baptisms at the spring at Holystone Northumberland. However when Edwin was slain by Cadwalla just six years later Paulinus fled south. The Northumbrians returned to heathenism only John the Deacon remained in Catterick

When king Oswald gained the throne by defeating Cadwalla at Heavenfield he sent back to IONA in Dalriada where he had lived in exile amongst the Irish/Scots for a missionary to teach the Northumbrians Christianity.
The first Scot returned home; he said that Northumbrians were, "uncivilised,stubborn and barbarous". Then Aidan was sent (635AD). He chose to build a monastery, a few simple huts, on Lindisfarne because it was close to the King’s town of Bamburgh.

Aidan spoke Gaelic so Oswald translated for him. He trained 12 Northumbrian young men to lead in the conversion of the people. He lived a simple life. He travelled usually on foot. He gave money to the poor and ransomed slaves. He established Celtic Christianity in Northumbria. It was a vision of Aidan`s death that led to Cuthbert becoming a monk.

The first church was built of wood in the Celtic fashion by Aidan`s successor Finan.

Oswy (or Oswiu) who succeeded his brother Oswald as King of Northumbria was brought up as a Celtic Christian. But his wife, from Kent, was brought up according to the Roman customs of Augustine. The main difference was that the date of Easter was calculated differently. So the most important date in the Christian calendar celebrating the Resurrection of Christ was celebrated at different times by the King and Queen.

To settle the dispute the two sides were called to Whitby by Abbess Hilda where there was a debate, (664AD). Colman the Irish bishop of Lindisfarne supported the Celtic side and the Northumbrian Wilfrid who had journeyed to Rome, supported the Roman side. The dating of Easter was settled by King Oswy who backed the Roman customs because he believed that Rome’s Saint Peter held the keys of the kingdom of heaven and was a good person to have on your side.

Colman left Lindisfarne with his supporters including some English and went back to Iona and then Innisboffin off the coast of western Ireland. He took part of Aidan`s bones with him. The English later set up a monastery in Mayo


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