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 Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find

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nordmann
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PostSubject: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Wed 16 Nov 2016, 11:33

Yesterday's announcement of the exciting discovery of six occupied graves and eighty-one other coffins from between the 7th and 9th century raises some interesting perspectives on Christian history as commonly understood in Britain.


The Guardian's article from today's online edition

That the graves are Christian seems indisputable - their alignment and the absence of grave goods at least support this supposition. However that they are being interpreted therefore as some of the earliest Christian burials in Britain reveals a lot about how this religion's history is itself interpreted with respect to its presence in Britain.

In 1999 a beautiful sarcophagus, decorated with a sculpted scallop shell motif and which is now on display at the London Museum, was found in the Spitalfields area of the city during redevelopment of the famous market. It contained the skeletal remains of an adult female. The "Spitalfields Lady" or the "Roman Princess", as the press dubbed her, presented quite a few challenges to traditional interpretations of Christian history in Britain, despite its exact east-west alignment, normally a dead (pardon the pun) giveaway of Christian origin. On the one hand the woman represented by quite a margin one of the most prestigious burials from the period in the city that had ever been found and on that basis, if indeed Christian, represents a find of genuinely global importance being one of the earliest such ever found anywhere. On the other hand the style of her burial just could not be made to fit comfortably into standard criteria by which ancient graves are traditionally judged to be "Christian" or "Pagan". Her supine position with arms crossed at the wrist suggested Christian. The scallop shells, a common motif adopted by Christians, also suggested the same, though if this was the case then the lady was something of a trendsetter - that motif became common only later, or so we had assumed. But working against the supposition of Christianity were the grave goods buried with her. Glass wine flasks in particular (believed full of wine when buried) seemed odd for a Christian, as were the remains of a bay leaf "pillow" under her head.

DNA and enamel analysis later seemed to verify that the woman had been born in Rome itself, or close to it, and while this in itself proves nothing it opens the possibility that she had been associated with an official of high political standing, which in early 4th century Rome could also well have entailed at least nominal devotion to Constantine's recently adopted religion of Christianity.


Caroline's "Flickering Lamps", a terrific history blog

The contradictions still exist however, and in fact other Roman remains discovered from the period in Britain also tend to throw up certain challenges when interpreted using traditional assumptions. Indeed the same could be said of post-Roman burials, the only thing common to "Saxon" burials apparently being that there is little common about them at all, the practices covering Christian alignment norms as well as others, Christian absence of grave goods as well as grave goods, Christian body poses as well as other poses, and a range of interment vessels ranging from coffins, hollowed out logs, plank-lined holes (all of these evident in the Norfolk find announced yesterday), sarcophagi, bare earth excavations, and even whole ships.

So what was going on regarding belief systems in the UK at the time? And just when and how does Christianity insinuate itself into society as evidenced by the burial process?

The mounting evidence, in my view, suggests that traditional criteria themselves are mistaken in the assumptions they adopt. We tend to think of "Christians" as arriving in society fully formed in the sense that they would have conformed in character to what we now understand the term to mean, first in a trickle and then in a flood as communal conversions got underway. We also tend to forget the very evident fact that Christians in the UK, if they followed the pattern as established throughout the whole Roman world (and why wouldn't they?) were around long before any Saxon hegemony was later established, and that these people didn't simply evaporate on dying, they too were buried (and maybe even cremated, something that is rather arbitrarily dismissed as a possibility based on known customs related to a particular belief in resurrection dating from much, much later in the UK and not universally adopted by Christians elsewhere at the time).

Where we are going wrong perhaps is in how we identify the evidence with regard to burials. Perhaps the "Spitalfields Lady"(who they are now concluding could have been a follower of Bacchus thanks to the wine bottles) is not only our most prestigious Roman burial to be found in Britannia but maybe in fact a good indication of how Christianity actually arrived, not in the guise of fully formed Christians as we might imagine them always to have been, but people who accommodated Christian belief without necessarily jettisoning the many others which had already been incorporated into their religious life as Romans. Those who say she was Christian, and those who say she was Bacchanalian, could both be right (and could even be omitting some other beliefs she may well have held based on the scant clues provided).

The Norfolk find is obviously of huge significance, but maybe not so much in its being "one of the first Christian burial grounds" as being one of the first which indicates an unconflicted Christian community as we understand the term today - "modern" Christians, as it were. And all those other burials dating back to Roman times - including maybe more Saxon burials than we have hitherto cared to assess as anything other than "pagan" - may contain within them evidence of the true nature of Christianity's entrance into British society, exemplified by people for whom Jesus may simply have been a new and important addition to an established pantheon in their own heads (be it Roman, Germanic or Celtic in character), claiming pride of place in that structure but not to the extent that he necessarily completely displaced the existing gods and goddesses and the various rites and beliefs associated with them.

It is a version of Christianity which would appear to be anathema to bog-standard Christian theology, especially as we know it today, yet when compared to the traditional Catholic acceptance of a whole pantheon of divine intermediaries in the form of saints and Jesus's relatives (a belief venerable in age to the extent of almost two millennia now), and in light of what we do know happened in Gaelic culture to the old goddesses in particular, maybe not so wild a notion after all?
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Thu 17 Nov 2016, 10:18

Fascinating stuff - and I am particulary interested in your mention of the "Spitalfields princess", a young woman about whom I knew nothing.

Some rambling thoughts about this - bit of a muddled response, just mulling it all over really.

Surely we should not be surprised at the apparent mixture of "Christianity" and devotion to the cult of Dionysus (Bacchus), as possibly evidenced in the findings of the Spitalfields burial? As you say, "Christianity" in the 4th century was still evolving: it was struggling to define itself and its beliefs - hence all those solemn old men discussing things at their councils, not to mention all the bitter arguments and accusations of heresy and breakaway sects. Who were the heretics and who were the ones with the truth? Was anyone very clear what they were supposed to be believing in the early years of the 4th century? The "official" and "correct" version was supposedly codified at Nicaea, but old ideas die slowly and I seem to remember reading something years and years ago about the similarities between St John's theology, the Bacchae of Euripedes and the cult of Dionysus (see link below). I think Sir James Frazer mentioned it in The Golden Bough - and later Robert Graves in his The White Goddess - but I can't remember: I'd have to look it up.

I like to imagine an intelligent Roman girl, living in London, thinking about all this. I also find it interesting that both the cult of Dionysus and early Christianity apparently appealed particularly to women. Celsus, in one of his biting comments that can still make one squirm, observed that Christianity indeed appealed to "the silly, and the mean, and the stupid, with the women and children, whereas men of sound mind were not so easily won over." The female devotees of Bacchus were also viewed as being a bit "silly", were they not - women who did not "know their place"?


https://advocatusatheist.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/jesus-the-corn-king-examining-some-parallels-between-jesus-and-dionysus/
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Thu 17 Nov 2016, 11:40

Nordmann wrote:

And all those other burials dating back to Roman times - including maybe more Saxon burials than we have hitherto cared to assess as anything other than "pagan" - may contain within them evidence of the true nature of Christianity's entrance into British society, exemplified by people for whom Jesus may simply have been a new and important addition to an established pantheon in their own heads (be it Roman, Germanic or Celtic in character), claiming pride of place in that structure but not to the extent that he necessarily completely displaced the existing gods and goddesses and the various rites and beliefs associated with them.

Indeed and only one example of instances where elements of the old faith were acknowledged and respected alongside adherence to the new.

Something similar might be discerned in some of the early Scottish long cist cemeteries from the 5th and 6th c. If you come into land at Edinburgh airport you pass over the Catstane cemetery where still stands the Cat Stane with its inscription
IN OC T
MVLO IAC T
VETTA F
VICTR


IN THIS
TOMB LIES
VETTA DAUGHTER OF
VICTRICUS


The standing stone is all that remains today of a bronze age burial cairn but became the focus of a large, early Christian, long cist cemetery 2000 years later. At that time it is reasonable to assume that much of the earlier structure was still upstanding given that in 1699 a slabbed pavement and the remains of the cairn were still visible.
This would suggest that the place had retained some kind of sanctity and (possibly) a link to the ancestors which the Christian community did not see as being in conflict with their faith.



Something similar happened at Cairnpapple Hill. This one of my favourite places, set as it is on a hilltop not far from Edinburgh with coast to coat views on a clear day and is usually quiet if not empty. Here there has been a succession of ceremonial structures ranging from burials, cremations, a henge, pits, ditches and a huge burial cairn but again was used as a small, long cist, burial ground around the cairn.





The grave goods business is a minefield but in the medieval period it was still being practised with a variety of objects being interred with the dead including antiquities and other oddities such as fossils. This is usually interpreted sympathetic or natural magic and so not seen as being entirely inimicable with the mainstream of Christian faith, at least by some.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Thu 17 Nov 2016, 13:18

Yes, ferval. The re-use through millennia of certain burial sites (there are a few examples in Ireland too of extraordinarily long periods in which they were utilised) has certainly led to some confusion in interpretation of finds associated with them, this much is certainly true. I have been to Cairnpapple Hill but wasn't aware at all of the Catstane site before. Thanks for bringing it up.

Your use of the term "early Christian" in relation to Cat Stane is more or less what I've been wondering about in relation to the same claim being made for the newly opened Norfolk cemetery. I know you didn't imply that the later Latin inscription (from the post-Roman era, I notice) on the Bronze Age stone is itself necessarily Christian in origin but if contemporary Christian burials at the site do exist then it certainly lends the lie to the claim that the Norfolk site is one of the earliest such cemeteries in a Christian sense, the Cat Stane inscription predating the Norfolk community's graves by about two centuries, if not more.

However my point was that the confusion may not just be due to the proximity of different styles of burial in the same complex, or even within the same time span, but also due to a rather presumptuous insistence that individual burials by default should not betray overlaps of religious belief in their composition. I would maintain that in fact the latter by right should be the default assumption, and that this covers grave sites for many centuries even after Christianity is assumed to have taken hold in any one area. Not evidence that the locals were hedging their bets - as is often glibly assumed in the cases where this is recognised - but probably more an indication that Christianity shared the craniums of its followers with much else by way of faith and belief and for a very long time, much longer than officially recorded (largely by Christian church agents) and not even always in the ascendancy in that regard as circumstances, communal experiences, the evolution of ideas etc, impacted on the individuals whose graves we are now digging up.

Temp, the parallels between Christianity and Bacchanalian rites and beliefs is well documented, and we have talked about it here before. However again I would maintain that there is still a default bias at play here in which it is assumed that those who exercised a religious belief in which this parallel can be deduced by their remains - such as possibly the Roman woman found in London in 1999 - did so by essentially blending both into some type of hybrid. I reckon this is a bad way of thinking about religious belief, and especially in the case of Romans.

On many Christian gravestones from the Roman world, for example, and for many centuries into the apparent dominance of Christianity as the "go to" belief system, Romans still insisted on carving the obligatory "DM" on their gravestones, often with accompanying references to Christian symbols or conventions. "Dis Manibus" was not just a phrase of convention to Roman minds however, such as R.I.P. today for example - it was practically unthinkable to commit anyone to the afterlife without an appeal to the Manes to do their stuff. These spirits who inhabited the metaphysical shade between the grave and one's next step into the universe were a fundamentally important part of death, one would no more think about ignoring them as one would "accidentally" forget to anoint a corpse or leave it lying around for no good reason prior to burial or cremation. Christianity did nothing to dispel this it seems - its theology not precluding in Roman minds what was to them such a real and essential part of the burial process.

And this is a key, in my view, to how Romans thought, period. For as long as they had had religion they had simply added to it as they went along. The only bits that got replaced - such as with the adoption of Greek belief systems - were those which had comparable bits in the new source which for whatever reason might hold greater appeal, and likewise the only bits that got developed theologically were equally those with regard to which the adoption of the new stuff could be deemed variations on established themes. Brand new concepts, if they had no parallel, were simply tagged on. Conversely when a new faith, even Christianity, offered no direct equivalent to an existing theme, the existing theme therefore by default also remained, along with whatever rites and beliefs were associated with it. When two (or more) theological tenets were manifestly contradictory then they were still allowed to reside within an individual's personal faith, as long as there was insufficient reason to jettison either - a phenomenon which had become manifest during the initial absorption of Egyptian and Persian elements, long before the Judaeo-Christian challenge later. Contradiction alone didn't warrant such drastic tempting of spiritual fate as arbitrary dropping of elements entailed, and never had. In fact so used were they to it having been this way for as long as they could remember that much was made philosophically within Rome about the necessity for such inherent contradiction within religion (viz Marcus Aurelius), without which religion simply lost credibility in Roman eyes. Religion was an extension of the human condition into metaphysical realms, but being such an extension meant it contained by default all the confusion and inherent contradictions that humanity expressed anyway.


A marvellously preserved example from near the Vatican Hill in Rome with an appeal to the Manes and a Christian dedication to "the fish of the living".

This might all sound very weird, especially when Christian theologians predisposed to stress the unassailable truth behind monotheism wasted no time, ink or breath in denouncing such as "superstition" almost from the beginning. However it is still worth noting that monotheism in the guise of Christianity almost equally quickly came a cropper once it hit the religious sensibilities of the Greek and especially the Roman world upon the occasion of its imperial adoption. That was when one god became three - an unthinkable development to the Semitic minds that had formulated the belief but one without which a true Roman could even begin to grasp a potential validity in monotheistic theology at all.

Which brings us back to the Spitalfields Lady, poor girl. It's a big "if" - she could have just been glad in a wee tipple and her loved ones commemorated this - but if she indeed maintained some belief in Bacchus, and there is ample evidence that such a belief was contemporaneous with her life and of appeal to people of her status so it is a possibility, it may well have been hook line and sinker. As could have been her Christian belief, if she also held this. And in fact any other belief she held. One did not have to displace the other, and none had to be blended with the other to create a hybrid. All could sit quite happily within a Roman's sensibilities without offence. My contention is that this is also the default model for how Christianity imposed itself into Germanic, Celtic and other prevalent faith systems in its day, and that there is ample evidence of the effect of this model of infiltration in how the faith is expressed and held today - by no means uniformly at all.

It is a pity it was only the sarcophagus that was found, beautiful and important and all as it is. Such a high status lady would certainly have had some sort of inscribed memorial in the vicinity too, and it would have been fascinating to know if a clue to the shells and bottles might have been found there.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Thu 17 Nov 2016, 15:32

Scallop shells were a favourite decorative motif though, even the ARA report of the Spitalfields find notes that scallop shells sre often depicted on lead coffins, particularly in the Thames estuary area, and are associated with the dead's journey to the underworld.

http://www.associationromanarchaeology.org/ARA_Bulletin7.pdf

They also turn up on many items of samian ware.

Do we know the orientation of the coffin? It seems to me that the 'Christian' attribution here is somewhat iffy and then there's the ever present conundrum - as the old saw goes, The dead don't bury the dead - so how much can we ever infer from the manner of a burial about the person buried?
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Thu 17 Nov 2016, 15:44

ferval wrote:
Do we know the orientation of the coffin? It seems to me that the 'Christian' attribution here is somewhat iffy and then there's the ever present conundrum - as the old saw goes, The dead don't bury the dead - so how much can we ever infer from the manner of a burial about the person buried?

No, well I don't anyway. If you read the early press releases the assumption however was quite to the fore, suggesting the archaeologists' bias more than any great contextual interpretation was what was fuelling it.

The dead don't bury the dead, true, but the living often do so with the dead person's wishes in mind. That's probably as good as it gets regarding deducing anything directly from their remains outside of scientific analysis of the corpse's remains.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Thu 17 Nov 2016, 15:53


Oh come on, 'often' but quite often not. How many funerals have you attended where you have thought that the corpse would be burlin' in his box had he been aware of the type of ceremony that was being enacted around him?
I've been to a few. Often they are really about what they say about the living and why not? The dead are long past caring.


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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Thu 17 Nov 2016, 16:15

I quite agree. But I still think this very much depends on the culture. Goods deposited with bodies in particular seem never to have been totally arbitrary, and whether we're barking up the wrong tree or not when trying to interpret them there is definitely a tree up which we should bark, I reckon.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Thu 17 Nov 2016, 16:41

Woof-woof.


By the by, I'm off tonight to the last of a series of four lectures by Roger Stalley on yer big, Oirish crossy things. There's drinkies first, not always the most sensible order of service............

http://www.glasarchsoc.org.uk/index.php/activities/dalrymple-lectures
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Thu 17 Nov 2016, 16:48

I was at a lecture where Roger Stalley did a good job explaining how Gothic architecture in Ireland was very much a colonial style and why the locals didn't take to it - up until Catholic emancipation when the newly emancipated church went on a Gothic binge, just to show who was now in the ascendancy.

Drink only stimulants.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Thu 17 Nov 2016, 18:53

Well, since Christianity does seem to have appropriated pagan festivals and there are suggstions that many "Holy Well"s are pre-Christian sites, would it be surprising if burial customs showed similar tendencies? (St Brigid's fire, anyone?)
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Thu 17 Nov 2016, 23:27

It's the actual mechanism whereby it appropriated these rather non-Christian elements that intrigues me - there's no doubt at all of course that it did. However this has to have been largely on the grounds that "they" couldn't stop people from adhering to certain beliefs and practices, and it is the mentality of these people who caused this to happen repeatedly, but who came from quite diverse backgrounds and attitudes themselves, which is fascinating. I reckon the traditional Roman mentality, as stated above, accounts for quite a bit of it, but given the insularity and consequent diversity of those who the Christian faith encountered as it spread, I would reckon the actual mechanism ranges from compromise through multi-religionism and on to outright defiance, sometimes with a communal voice raised in opposition to the Christian "regime" (which for a while with a powerful state's backing it must have appeared to many) and often maybe just with a critical number of individuals simply carrying on as before and not even realising they were in opposition to any stated church aim.

The key, I suppose, is to try and gauge the actual authority the church wielded in any particular place at any given time. The historical record suggests that this was by no means standard and uniform in nature and strength at all, even in areas and at times when ecclesiastical histories produced from within the church might tend to suggest it was.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Fri 18 Nov 2016, 07:58

Apologies, as this is not history and is therefore no doubt well "off topic" and irrelevant, but some folk out there might be interested in a bit of poetry.



“Hymn to Proserpine” is a poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne, published in "Poems and Ballads" in 1866. The poem is addressed to the goddess Proserpina, the Roman equivalent of Persephone, but laments the rise of Christianity for displacing the pagan goddess and her pantheon.

The epigraph at the beginning of the poem is the phrase "Vicisti, Galilaee", Latin for "You have conquered, O Galilean", the apocryphal dying words of the Emperor Julian. He had tried to reverse the official endorsement of Christianity by the Roman Empire. The poem is cast in the form of a lament by a person professing the paganism of classical antiquity and lamenting its passing, and expresses regret at the rise of Christianity. Lines 35 and 36 express this best:


"Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath;
We have drunken of things Lethean, and fed on the fullness of death. "




https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/45292
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Fri 18 Nov 2016, 08:31

Apology accepted at this end, it's still history - just not very accurate.

Actually the period referred to is one of those fascinating and tantalisingly under-recorded crucial phases in global history - so much that affects so many of us still, and hinged on such apparently arbitrary imperial whims. The emperor's court of the period was a particularly nasty one in terms of the characters inhabiting it, engaged as they were in interminable power struggles which at that stage had persisted for a century, which had basically ended any current hope of Rome ever having the cohesion and ability to prosper it had once enjoyed, and was a court therefore suffused completely with an "end of empire" pessimism shared by all sides. One can see in fact the appeal of an "end of days" religion within all that mess. Julian's attempt to eliminate Christianity as a dominant influence at the top of the heap made total sense in the context of someone also attempting to reinvigorate Diocletian reform (the last successful policy anyone had adopted which actually benefited the empire, and not just the emperor). It is tragic however that we are so dependent on ecclesiastical interpretations of what happened at the time, the records as preserved from contemporary courtiers and observers like Claudius Mamertinus and Libanius now only accessible through later Christian redactions.

Libanius in particular would be a great source to have access to. We know he was a strictly non-aligned religionist at a time when these matters were of huge importance to the elite, but a person who still retained the trust and even close friendship of several of the big players on all sides - probably due to his neutrality and his insistence on philosophical rather than political interpretation of events we know he recorded in detail. Not only that but his writings covered the entire period - from the initial Constantinian adoption of Christianity, through the Julian (and don't forget that this was also the Constantinian camp) attempt to reauthenticate the traditional observances at the expense of all mystery cults (not just the Christian one), and then into the frantic and haphazardly short and chaotic reign of Jovian who - a bit like Trump promises to do - simply enacted a lot of things all at once regardless of coherent policy, one of which was re-establishing the mystery cults, among which again was Christianity, though the ecclesiastical history elevates this ineffective individual to the status of their religion's "saviour" as if this had been Jovian's sole intent.

Libanius was still alive and writing into the reign of Valentinius, a character who behaved exactly like his most traditional, non-reformiist, imperial predecessors had done in matters of military campaigns and political affairs, yet who the ecclesiastical histories maintained was a Christian and cite a very strange law (of which there is no record from any other source) in which the emperor bans certain Roman religious practices - like sacrifice of animals - while allowing Roman religion to carry on otherwise undisturbed as that of the court, senate and people. This smacks so much of reverse engineering of history that it stinks.

Libanius however would have given us the real gen on what actually happened, but he has been expunged, and all we have left besides some rather selective quotes and neutral tracts about oratory and dance is a vague reference from Eusebius about Libanius, who appeared on the scene during the former's career as self-appointed "official historian of the faithful" as "writing well but without access to the truth (ie. Christian truth)" and so therefore not to be trusted by the flock - a sure indication that Libanius was writing about more than dance technique. All indications are that Theodosius, a Christian emperor but one who liked the non-Christian Libanius too (showing that he had never strayed far from courtly life throughout the reign of seven or eight emperors - an amazing achievement for anyone in those years), struck a deal with the now elderly journalist - for such was Libanius, had he known it - that if he shut up he could live out a comfortable life on a state pension. Or else Libanius simply gave up trying to make sense of it all - as I have heard several political commentators and journalists say recently with regard to the rise of Trump, the emergence of "post-truth" Brexiteering, the self-idolatry mess that is Putin, etc. Sometimes one just gets too old to give a shit about all that stuff any more.

All very stinky - that whole period. But wouldn't it be fascinating to travel back and see what was really going on?
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Sun 20 Nov 2016, 12:00

The initial press release has been amended due to the misleading wording, it is said, which inferred these graves were the oldest Christian burials found in Britain. The archaeologists point out that what they intended to convey was that these are the oldest examples of plank-lined graves yet found, which makes much more sense.

Now, if only our friends in Leicester could follow such an honourable lead in belatedly correcting badly worded presumptuous press releases and let the little old nun finally rest in peace (admittedly in her new salubrious grave) ...
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Mon 21 Nov 2016, 10:17

I've been reading up on what might be called the "official" history of Christianity in Britain - the archaeologists' correction aside it is still apparent from the Norfolk find and how it was reported that journalists at least are still struggling with the concept of a pre-7th century Christian identity in Britain, and in fact I can well understand why non-specialists might indeed struggle when I read what is being offered as a most likely scenario regarding what was happening prior to this community's decision to construct a cemetery conforming to Christian traditions.

A summary of this official version seems straightforward, at least until one applies some common sense to matters. It goes mainly along the lines of;

- Christianity arrives via Rome and by the end of Roman administration the Romano-British population is mostly Christian (that's a big claim, and I can't see how it's justified archaeologically, but if it's true then it makes what happens next even more weird).
- The Anglo-Saxons [sic] make everyone go polytheist and pagan and it stays that way for about two centuries.
- Missionaries, operating in a sort of pincer movement (Irish/Scottish in the north and Papal/Roman from the south) reverse all the Anglo-Saxons sterling multi-theistic efforts in the 7th century, with York and Canterbury emerging as the new centres of religious administration.

In this scenario then the graves in Norfolk represent a relatively recently invigorated Christian community firmly within the ambit of the Gregorian missionary-led revival.

Except even the official version throws up a few problems with all this. For a start there are two lads called Aidan and Cuthbert - firmly Irish/Scottish in their approach - who allegedly "help" the Gregorian Augustine convert Kent (where Canterbury is) - which is fine if one accepts that everyone just mucked in together to get the job done, except we also know that in this period there was a huge difference between the two groups as represented by these very people. We also know from papal instructions to Augustine as his mission progressed that what Augustine kept encountering were established Christian communities, most likely at that time conforming to what was going on in Wales and Ireland in that they accepted the local monastic set-up as their chief authority, and which Augustine was under strict instructions to regard as little different from pagan. He therefore went about re-consecrating stuff all over the place, famously the shrine of St Sixtus, and in fact the church in Canterbury itself (according to Bede).

Is it feasible to assume that Aidan and Cuthbert went along with all this? And even helped him? After all Augustine's mob were basically calling the other lot little better than heathens. If they were sort of Celtic "turncoats" who abandoned their own beliefs and structures then how come they escaped the attention of the Irish, who at that stage were compiling their own records of how their mates were getting on in Britain and would surely have noticed all this? In Irish ecclesiastical records Britain never stops being Christian from the 4th century on - there are areas where they feel an extra oomph in missionary zeal is needed now and again, but on the whole they report local bosses going along with things without any notable demur - a far cry from the Anglo-Saxons having forced everyone to be polytheist again.

And that's just the first problem. There is an inherent presumption within the official record anyway regarding the nature of Christian belief itself and how it manifests itself on a personal level. In Irish records compiled by the monks we find constant reference, especially among the political elite, of people purposefully ensuring they have a foot in all camps (a la Constantine himself), and early church history there is itself a litany of compromises by the Christian authorities - missionary or monastic - with the locals concerning everything from theology to traditional observances and customs. The official version in Britain however places a huge emphasis on subscription to authority, and especially by the 8th century an authority as represented by the papal side.

Which brings us back to Norfolk. And I really hope this find sheds some light on this. At that point in Britain's ecclesiastical history (post Whitby, remember) just where did things stand with regard to conforming to this version of Christian identity? We know in Ireland that it took a Norman conquest, and then another hundred years of intense and rather cruel measures before the old monastic power structure was eventually subsumed and made to conform (and even then not with a hundred percent success rate). What therefore might really have been going in isolated rural communities in Norfolk, and especially in a time when their political masters, whether the locals were even aware of this or not, were fluctuating wildly between Germanic, Christian, Norse and probably at times no religious adherence whatsoever. In any case it must have been very difficult indeed throughout this time for any ecclesiastical authority to rigidly enforce any style of observance or belief on the people affected.

None of these questions are answered, or even addressed, within the "official" record - except with bland assertions implying a homogeneity in belief which defies common sense when thought about as an historical process comparable to others better documented.

Here's hoping Great Ryburgh, given its remarkable state of preservation, might yet yield a snippet or two which might inform this conjecture. And here's hoping both the archaeologists and the journalists don't retreat into safe presumptions which actually defy historical analysis rather than enhance it.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Mon 21 Nov 2016, 13:20

I've been doing a bit of reading as well looking at the topic from a more regionalised, indeed localised, perspective.

You are probably familiar with Martin Carver's work at the Pictish monastery on Portmahomack (there's a new edition of his book, I must try to have look at it) and reading his, now at least 10 years old, article, I was struck by this quote as being relevant to your post:

Recent studies of the processes of conversion have emphasised that the first Christian missions might be separated from institutionalised versions of Christianity by long experimental periods of up to 300 years, involving numerous small ideologically diverse territories. According to this model, neighbouring polities with different ideological agendas could co-exist, creating a patchwork of peoples each characterised by different kinds of monumental investment. In the Moray Firth area, we can suppose that the monastic community on Tarbat Ness co-existed with nonbelievers at Burghead and Golspie in the 7th century and later. The question of when or whether the Picts as a whole were Christianised thus becomes redundant: the communities of the north-east could adopt a variety of different ideological options, which may or may not have been recognised as orthodox Christianity by their neighbours. These experiments could have continued until the political unifications of the 9th century and later demanded their resolution into ideological conformity.

http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/1830/1/carverm2.pdf

Your summary of the official version is so typical of those accounts which describe events as large scale and homogeneous and usually arising or arriving in the South East before spreading in a Whiggish progress out to the margins. I suppose that it is those of us who inhabit (mentally or physically) these margins who are particularly sensitive to this. It is reassuring however that regional and local variation is becoming a much more prevalent area of research across the board in topics as wide as, say, the varieties of neolithicisation and as narrow as stylistic differences in, say, brooches, as more than that just taxonomic but reflecting local political and economic factors. Indeed one of Roger Stalley's points last week was that the high crosses and their iconography (particularly on the plinths) can only be properly interrogated if they are located within a very local and  particular context.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Mon 21 Nov 2016, 17:04

nordmann wrote:
  There is an inherent presumption within the official record anyway regarding the nature of Christian belief itself and how it manifests itself on a personal level. In Irish records compiled by the monks we find constant reference, especially among the political elite, of people purposefully ensuring they have a foot in all camps (a la Constantine himself), and early church history there is itself a litany of compromises by the Christian authorities - missionary or monastic - with the locals concerning everything from theology to traditional observances and customs. The official version in Britain however places a huge emphasis on subscription to authority, and especially by the 8th century an authority as represented by the papal side.

Which brings us back to Norfolk. And I really hope this find sheds some light on this. At that point in Britain's ecclesiastical history (post Whitby, remember) just where did things stand with regard to conforming to this version of Christian identity? We know in Ireland that it took a Norman conquest, and then another hundred years of intense and rather cruel measures before the old monastic power structure was eventually subsumed and made to conform (and even then not with a hundred percent success rate). What therefore might really have been going in isolated rural communities in Norfolk, and especially in a time when their political masters, whether the locals were even aware of this or not, were fluctuating wildly between Germanic, Christian, Norse and probably at times no religious adherence whatsoever. In any case it must have been very difficult indeed throughout this time for any ecclesiastical authority to rigidly enforce any style of observance or belief on the people affected.


I have been dying to say something here all day, but have held back for fear of saying something utterly stupid on a topic about which I know nothing. I dread being of the "post-truth" brigade: but such shrinking will not do - genuine questions should always be welcomed, even if they do betray a sad ignorance. So here goes...

I comment now not only as a non-specialist, but as a non-historian. I have to admit that I too struggle with the "official" version given above. It seems to me to be the sort of simplistic history that we, alas, were fed during my schooldays. It is all just too neat.

Surely it is common sense that ordinary folk, struggling to survive in remote rural areas, would pick 'n' mix from the various beliefs/superstitions they had heard about. Most wouldn't have a clue about theological niceties, but would go for a range - a mix - of the supposed benefits they perceived to be on offer; especially when it came to hoping for a favourable response to appeals for good weather, abundant harvests, protection against evil spirits, protection in childbirth, healing for the sick and comfort for the dying. Dignity in death would also be a priority - as would the hope for something after death: Christianity obviously would have a huge advantage here, but nevertheless a wholesale abandoning of the old gods and ways would surely have been viewed as most unwise?

I hesitate to offer the following as it is not from any academic journal; it is not even from "literature", but is something I read years ago and have remembered. It is from a historical novel ( Embarassed ), albeit a very good one written by a respected authoress, Anya Seton, whose research was, by all accounts, thorough and meticulous. The book was published in 1954. The extract I quote suggests that even as late as the 1300s country folk were still determined to mix a popular pagan rite with the festivities associated with a Christian saint*. The local priest did not just turn a blind eye: he joined in.

The following is from Katherine, Seton's novel about Katherine Swynford, who later became the mistress of John of Gaunt. The manor of Kettlethorpe is still in Lincolnshire - or rather its remains are. I have visited it.

...Katherine bit her lips. Her palm itched to slap the smug, sallow face. Milburga well knew that Katherine had forbidden the outlandish ritual performed by her tenants on this St. Walburga's Eve*. Gibbon had warned her of it, and described it a brutish heathen festival which had come down from Druid times and had to do with sacrifice to some dark goddess they called Ket, though some said it was in honour of the Dane, Ketel. No matter which, the proceeding seemed outrageous to Katherine.

The serfs, it seemed, always lit fires in a small circle of ancient stones on a hill near the Trent and after an orgy of dancing, guzzling and worse, they then launched a coracle on the river. The coracle would contain three new-born slaughtered lambs - slaughtered with wild cries and leapings, on a stone they called an altar. The whole ceremony was called the "Launching of Ket's Ark", Gibbon told her, and his objection to the function sprang not so much from moral indignation at this pagan folderol, but from the wanton waste of the lambs and waste of two days' work, one of preparation, and one of recovery from the drinking throughout the night.

But Katherine had been shocked and rushed at once to the priest demanding that he stop the preparations. "Oh, I cannot, lady," said Sir Robert, astonished. "They've always done so here. 'Tis custom. I've often gone myself to launch Ket's ark."

"But it's heathen!"

The priest shrugged and looked honestly bewildered.


Fictitious, but believable? Such mixing of the pagan and the Christian must have gone on all over the British Isles, with ignorant clergy like Sir Robert going along with it all.

Is it fanciful to suggest that it was not until the Protestant Reformation that genuine attempts were made to purge or "purify" the Christian faith of such pagan traces - notably the abolition of saints' days and - er - the "Christmas" revelries?


*St. Walburga's (or Walpurga's) Eve - April 30th/May 1st "Walpurgisnacht"
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Tue 22 Nov 2016, 14:10

Temp wrote:
Surely it is common sense that ordinary folk, struggling to survive in remote rural areas, would pick 'n' mix from the various beliefs/superstitions they had heard about.

As they do now. However you have to ask yourself what exactly this represents in practical terms for most inhabitants of post-Roman Britain and a society which sub-Roman archaeology consistently reveals to have been one of increased isolation, reduced mobility, reduced literacy, in fact very much reduced circumstances all round. The transmission of ideas, without even contemplating a selection of ideas from which one can cherry-pick, within such a fractured society is hardly likely to have been conducted through dissemination models with which we are familiar now - organised messages transmitted through organised means using organised and effective media.

Rather than cherry-picking, I imagine the model one should contemplate to be more a mixture of methods, haphazardly applied based on extremely variable geographical and geopolitical circumstances, very much laity transmitted as far as non-elite members of society were concerned, and therefore likely to produce extremely mixed ideas concerning superstitious belief and theological interpretation of their world, the experience of which was also extremely variable for the same reasons. Confusion of notions, in the strict sense of the term, is probably a better description of that which prevailed.

The exceptions to this, circumstances in which a concerted and uniform idea could be transmitted to several people at once and less prone to deviation due to the "Chinese whispers" effect this type of society promoted, would have been monastic institutions and the few cases where an ecclesiastical chain of authority could be established and which could be dove-tailed into an existing and effective civic administration. But even then, we know for example that there existed deviations between the monasteries themselves in how they interpreted, prioritised and presented Christian theology, again very much based on regional circumstances, just as there were similar deviations imposed on those ecclesiastic establishments dove-tailed into civic administrations, based largely on their role as adjunct to these various administrations and their often competitive regard for each other.

A normal individual with no access to monastic teaching or elite political levels would therefore not so much cherry-pick anything rather than basically work with what they had - which must in the main have been a mixture of existing traditional theology along with whatever was verbally communicated to them largely by people much like themselves. We have no great proof one way or the other how these early versions of Christianity as represented by such diffuse and hard to organise communities regarded the role of priest, for example, or even therefore how they interpreted or conducted what would later become the ritual mainstays of Christian observance, especially the mass. What looks likely however is that they solved these challenges, as in Ireland where in fact a less fractured polity actually existed in comparison at that time, very much locally, with each community arriving at an approximation of the system as advised by monastic or missionary rules, neither of which were really enforceable and both of which differed from each other rather fundamentally anyway.

Ferval, I wasn't aware of Martin Carver - thanks for the information. I would agree with his view as quoted, and would even say that what he surmises not only sounds perfectly sensible but probably even applied in greater measure to what we call England, but which throughout that period of several centuries was an even more fractured, unstable and unmanageable society, and therefore even more prone to rely on local interpretation, experimentation (as he phrases it) and place-specific ideological construction. In that scenario the perseverance of non-Christian motifs and elements within communities who still may well have styled themselves as Christian must surely have been inevitable.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Tue 22 Nov 2016, 18:43

This is a bit off-topic but not terribly - I haven't been to Ireland for many years but in the 1970s an American lady described Dublin as being "just lousy with nuns" - meaning that there were a goodly number of nuns in that city.  I can remember from my mainland English childhood seeing Irish people making the sign of the cross when they went past a church.  Can Nordmann (or anyone else who is "in the know") explain when things changed?  As I say I haven't actually set foot in Ireland for a tidy while but from what I hear a lot of people in that country are very disillusioned with Catholicism at present. Was it because of some of the stories that came out about the sex abuse scandals of some members of the clergy?  One (now deceased) nun at the convent in my hometown (which is not a convent anymore - the nuns have all moved on) refused to believe that the scandals were true.

A bit more on topic, I used to know a lady who was a Jehovah's witness - nice lady but I couldn't agree with her beliefs.  I suppose though that some of the things she said were true - the Easter bunny does come from a pagan religion as does kissing under the mistletoe at Christmas - and that's just scratching the surface of pre-Christian practices that were incorporated into Christianity.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Tue 22 Nov 2016, 19:24

LiR, there is no doubt that disillusionment is the correct word to describe current attitudes towards religion per se, and Catholicism in particular, as represented by a sizeable chunk of Irish society today. Whether this chunk represents a majority, or for that matter is actually representative of most people's actual feelings on the matter is a moot point. What can be said with some confidence however is that a majority in Ireland have noticeably redefined the relevance of the church in their daily lives, and certainly have diminished its role in that regard.

As a witness to this change over the past three or four decades it is difficult to pinpoint any one incident, or even a series of incidents, which triggered this process. The tragic case of Anne Lovett in the 1980s was one, I recall, which galvanised criticism of traditional church values, though I also recall that this criticism was directed as much against ourselves as solely the church at the time. This, and a few other similar newsworthy events however, served also to highlight how hopelessly disconnected the church had become from reality - its absence of meaningful response at the highest levels of its structure foreshadowed the even more scandalous behaviour at the same levels when ever more serious evidence of sexual, psychological and physical abuse perpetrated by its own agents came to light. In much the same way I imagine that Eastern Europeans must have felt when what had been experienced as a regime collapsed facade-like almost overnight, Irish people seemed to "suddenly" find themselves out from under its control, even with some disbelief that such a momentous shift had occurred at all. But of course it hadn't really happened suddenly. The church had encouraged and availed itself of a compliant and obedient laity which itself had undergone a fundamental, gradual, but inexorable demographic transformation in the post-war decades. It had simply failed to keep up, and when this shift accelerated towards the century's end, the church was in no position anymore to even try.

While this all sounds off-topic, as you say, I imagine that it actually isn't, in that many facets of this case of what at first glance appears to be mass-disillusionment with an existing religious organisation and the notions it had peddled so successfully before must surely also have been mirrored in that huge demographic seismic event which was the end of Roman rule in Britain. Part of the vacuum which the early Christian church sought to exploit, this discontinuity with long-established but now increasingly irrelevant theological notions, had come about not because the spiritual values had been diminished but because more prosaic but fundamentally important aspects to society had been drastically altered, and altered in a way that the "old" beliefs had struggled to keep up with, explain, provide solace for their most detrimental effects, or in any way lay claim to further relevance. And like what you're seeing in Ireland (and several other places) today, the abandonment of once traditionally accepted institutionalised or societally ingrained theological agencies did not mean a complete one, a uniform one, or indeed one apparently leading to a consensual alternative. Christianity in Britain, or at least its attempted imposition in post-Roman Britain, stepped into just such a situation and consequently became as diffuse an alternative as the mindsets it attempted to "convert" were diffuse.

In many ways the notion that Christianity has ever been a unified church with consistent morals, beliefs and practices is disproved by history anyway, even when it at times could pretend to such an illusion being fact due to its highly organised set-up and the consequent ability it has to represent itself in that light, and this applies as equally to the broad church as to the Roman Catholic element. However, that it could start out anywhere in its early missionary guise with a supposed unity of purpose and design (however it represented itself at the time), and especially in a society so fractured as post-Roman Britain was, and would remain for many centuries afterwards, is simply impossible to believe without some startling levels of absolute credulity in play.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Tue 22 Nov 2016, 19:33

LadyinRetirement wrote:
This is a bit off-topic but not terribly - I haven't been to Ireland for many years but in the 1970s an American lady described Dublin as being "just lousy with nuns" - meaning that there were a goodly number of nuns in that city.  I can remember from my mainland English childhood seeing Irish people making the sign of the cross when they went past a church.  Can Nordmann (or anyone else who is "in the know") explain when things changed?  As I say I haven't actually set foot in Ireland for a tidy while but from what I hear a lot of people in that country are very disillusioned with Catholicism at present. Was it because of some of the stories that came out about the sex abuse scandals of some members of the clergy?  One (now deceased) nun at the convent in my hometown (which is not a convent anymore - the nuns have all moved on) refused to believe that the scandals were true.

A bit more on topic, I used to know a lady who was a Jehovah's witness - nice lady but I couldn't agree with her beliefs.  I suppose though that some of the things she said were true - the Easter bunny does come from a pagan religion as does kissing under the mistletoe at Christmas - and that's just scratching the surface of pre-Christian practices that were incorporated into Christianity.


Lady in retirement,

in my opinion not only in Ireland but as well in Belgium and especially the Flemish region, as in the Walloon region there were historically more Socialists and Liberals, who were mostly non clerical.
Older people, and I have seen it in my lifetime, making the sign of the cross for whatever odd reason. And nuns, as many or even more than the nowadays "covered" muslim women, in their typical outfit. And priests in their cassocks...

And from the Sixties it all changed, even in the Catholic Colleges and Girl Schools, the pupils became: girls and boys mixed. And the Church had to be compliant to retain any worshippers. And the common man, not believing anymore, only sticking to the Catholic Church for the big events in lifetime and only because it is the custom from generations far.
I think, it is therefore, that many are against the Muslims overhere. As I hear it, there are many who say, now we are released from the Catholics in the streets, schools and public life and now the Muslims start to...
If you hear the Americans, we, and I include all the Europeans, and the British Wink , are nearly leftist liberals and unbelievers. From my impression they are still "swearing by the bible" (I mean, it is an expression in Dutch: swearing by: sticking to), a lot of creationists overthere too. We had Tas here, an American from Indian origin, perhaps he could say us more on the change in the US?

Kind regards, Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Tue 22 Nov 2016, 20:08

Nordmann,

our posts just crossed...

"In many ways the notion that Christianity has ever been a unified church with consistent morals, beliefs and practices is disproved by history anyway, even when it at times could pretend to such an illusion being fact due to its highly organised set-up and the consequent ability it has to represent itself in that light, and this applies as equally to the broad church as to the Roman Catholic element"

As for Belgium, I think that from the Eigthy Years War (in English it is better known as the Dutch Revolt)
https://www.google.be/?gws_rd=ssl#q=eighty+years+war
by the Counter reformation (odd, over here we say "contrareformatie") by the Jesuits, the later Belgium became thoroughly Catholic. And as in France it didn't change before the Liberal emergence of the French revolution. A revolution that had many Liberal followers overhere too. (The United States of Belgium):
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Belgian_States


And that establishment suddenly changed here from the Fifties on starting, till in the Seventies it was nearly fully changed. And the Catholic Church, who tried to keep to their former glory, failed as the general attitudes of the common (wo)man in the street was fast changing into a way as I just mentioned in my former message.


Kind regards, Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Wed 23 Nov 2016, 16:31

Getting back to the period in question, I was intrigued when reading the official version of Augustine's mission regarding one instruction from Pope Gregory in particular, issued after some years once his missionary expedition had succeeded in setting up a base of operations - namely that after Augustine had secured compliance from the Kentish king he was to use his new authority (a vicarious one transmitted through Æthelberht) to immediately stop British bishops exercising control over Frankish laity and (intriguingly) vice versa.

Now this appears a strange directive, and for several reasons. Firstly of course is its apparent contradiction of the mission's prime assumption, that British Christianity had all but vanished and that Augustine was there to convert pagans to the faith - an assumption seemingly verified in the traditional version by his first great "success", the conversion of Æthelberht himself and then the mass baptisms (of several thousand one Christmas Day, it is said) of the king's subjects. Æthelberht's kingdom of Kent was traditionally the Frankish gateway - though for reasons best known to Bede & Co afterwards this rather obvious and powerful Germanic neighbour's activities on British soil are hardly mentioned however and minor colonists such as Angles and Jutes are the only rivals to Saxon we tend to hear about. Also one only has to look at a contemporary map of Britain to see that Augustine's "control", then scarcely exceeding that of Kent, could hardly have been extensive enough to order "British" bishops (who officially weren't really meant to exist anyway, remember) to do anything at all.



The map above, if the official version of events is to be believed, seems to show Augustine's authority at that point restricted to a small south-eastern island of newly converted Christians, surrounded everywhere one looked by assumed pagans, and with any potential Christian remnants from the old Roman occupation restricted to and isolated within the western lands, far from Augustine's ambit and probably not even aware that he was there at all, or at least if they were then hardly in a position to understand such an edict, being equally isolated from Frankish influence.

But if one ignores the map above (which itself is based on Bede & Co's retrospective guesstimates) and looks at the archaeology a rather different picture emerges.



Archaeologically the south of England yields a very different pattern of Germanic influence and control than the traditional assumptions describe. Frankish finds (relating to just before, during, and just after the reign of the Frankish king Clovis) are divided into three corresponding phases, A, B, and C. In some particular places the incidence of Frankish finds exceeds often that of Saxon (eg. Southampton, which tradition defines as a sort of Jute outpost) during crucial periods, one such period in fact being exactly when Augustine arrived and set about his conversion programme. Coins are probably a surer indication of influence and control than other artefacts, coinage having no great value without its consensual adoption into local economy as valid tender, and therefore the map above seems to suggest that the Kentish gateway in which Augustine squarely plonked himself had indeed been one through which considerable such control was already being exerted, and way beyond Kent itself.

We know Gregory's beef with the Merovingian kings at the time - they opted in and out of Christianity as it suited them and always on their own Germanic terms (polygamy being one aspect to their faith that they refused to surrender and which the popes had agreed to "tolerate").

This makes me wonder just what Augustine's actual brief really was. Far from being a pagan territory ripe for conversion could it have been perhaps that the pope had become alarmed that Merovingian Christianity, something even worse than heathenism in his view, was establishing itself across southern Britain? It would certainly explain why Kent received first priority on the agenda, and might even explain why Aidan and Cuthbert, themselves representative of a challenge to papal authority, also might have agreed to lend their weight to the programme too.

What makes it really interesting is that just prior to Augustine's arrival the Merovingian elite had cut a deal with Columbanus himself - the lad who was leading the Hiberno-Scottish Christian monastic mission - and had endowed the missionary handsomely regarding establishing Ionian monastic missions throughout their territories. This would have represented a huge blow to the papacy. For a start the Merovingians were the only big Germanic players without an Arian elite (the real enemy in papal eyes) and all previous popes' tolerance of their heathen habits had been to keep them at least nominally in their camp, a policy that Gregory suspected deeply would come back and bite him in the bum. A similar tolerance extended by Ionian monastics who carried almost as much theological weight in these climes could spell the end of papal authority for good in Northern Europe.

These were big stakes. In my view Augustine's intervention in Southern Britain must have been no less than to drive a wedge into this area of influence, not only to halt its western expansion but to also effectively drive a divide as much as he could up through this new Ionian/Merovingian "alliance" before it too could develop much further.

None of this makes any sense if one presupposes the "Britain" in which Augustine arrived to be largely pagan. It makes perfect sense however if what Britain hosted at that time was a population with a high percentage of semi- demi- and non-aligned Christians in the pope's view. And in such a high-stake manoeuvre, where the pope and Augustine at least to begin with had less stick than carrot to offer, the inducement to the locals to comply must have entailed a pragmatic "tolerance" of deviation similar to what was being extended to the Franks, but this time one extended to Christians who at the very least stayed within Ionian bounds (which were vehemently anti-Arian too) while nominally subject to papal authority in the form of new bishoprics appointed with his approval. It stopped them potentially slipping into Arianism (always the big fear), isolated them from further European influence excepting the pope's, and deferred the showdown with Ionian theology to another day (Whitby would occur before the century was out and be regarded as a purely British affair).

This also makes sense of the "temple" reconsecration references that abound in the traditional history of the period. Nowhere in the history of that time and area does one associate temple (or even church) communal mass attendance at grass roots town and village level with the monastic tradition. This was not how the monastic system operated, its own church buildings largely restricted geographically to individual bases of operation or, as had become popular in the meantime, hermitages sometimes with associated chapels which were most often out of the way anyway and not conducive to communal worship. Nor do we associate Saxon, Angle or Jute paganism with temple worship, or at least not with buildings described as temples or which would lend themselves anyway, like basilicæ, to repurposing as Christian churches. The "temples" referred to must surely already have been Christian churches, though ones operating outside papal remit, and which spread far into Britain, into lands traditionally ascribed pagan status but which - thanks to already established Frankish links (and probably others) - had already been organised into dioceses, bishoprics or similar.

So back to Norfolk again. The recently excavated graves are not a million miles away from the distinctive church of St Andrews in Great Ryburgh, the foundations of which we know date back to Saxon times, and indeed one in which the graves' occupants must conceivably have worshipped while alive. Its unusual round tower, which also dates back foundationally to its first manifestation, is a design found now and again in ancient parish churches of the general area and from the same time. No explanation apart from local aesthetics is normally offered for this distinctive architecture, but could it be a remnant of this period when the so-called "pagan" Angles contained within their number communities of Christians looking east rather than south for spiritual authority?



Could Augustine's mission therefore not actually have been to convert Britain to Christianity at all, but rather to convert it from Christianity as it had taken root, and with deep roots at that if the diocesan influence over continental laity which Augustine was also instructed to address was in any way prevalent? I am warming more and more to the ancient departed of Great Ryburgh - perhaps in their newly disinterred state they might yet yield some clues to what had really transpired in their probably Angle / probably Saxon / and even probably Frankish (but probably not pagan) neck of the woods in the century or two before their burial.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Wed 23 Nov 2016, 20:50

nordmann wrote:
Getting back to the period in question, I was intrigued when reading the official version of Augustine's mission regarding one instruction from Pope Gregory in particular, issued after some years once his missionary expedition had succeeded in setting up a base of operations - namely that after Augustine had secured compliance from the Kentish king he was to use his new authority (a vicarious one transmitted through Æthelberht) to immediately stop British bishops exercising control over Frankish laity and (intriguingly) vice versa.

Now this appears a strange directive, and for several reasons. Firstly of course is its apparent contradiction of the mission's prime assumption, that British Christianity had all but vanished and that Augustine was there to convert pagans to the faith - an assumption seemingly verified in the traditional version by his first great "success", the conversion of Æthelberht himself and then the mass baptisms (of several thousand one Christmas Day, it is said) of the king's subjects. Æthelberht's kingdom of Kent was traditionally the Frankish gateway - though for reasons best known to Bede & Co afterwards this rather obvious and powerful Germanic neighbour's activities on British soil are hardly mentioned however and minor colonists such as Angles and Jutes are the only rivals to Saxon we tend to hear about. Also one only has to look at a contemporary map of Britain to see that Augustine's "control", then scarcely exceeding that of Kent, could hardly have been extensive enough to order "British" bishops (who officially weren't really meant to exist anyway, remember) to do anything at all.



The map above, if the official version of events is to be believed, seems to show Augustine's authority at that point restricted to a small south-eastern island of newly converted Christians, surrounded everywhere one looked by assumed pagans, and with any potential Christian remnants from the old Roman occupation restricted to and isolated within the western lands, far from Augustine's ambit and probably not even aware that he was there at all, or at least if they were then hardly in a position to understand such an edict, being equally isolated from Frankish influence.

But if one ignores the map above (which itself is based on Bede & Co's retrospective guesstimates) and looks at the archaeology a rather different picture emerges.



Archaeologically the south of England yields a very different pattern of Germanic influence and control than the traditional assumptions describe. Frankish finds (relating to just before, during, and just after the reign of the Frankish king Clovis) are divided into three corresponding phases, A, B, and C. In some particular places the incidence of Frankish finds exceeds often that of Saxon (eg. Southampton, which tradition defines as a sort of Jute outpost) during crucial periods, one such period in fact being exactly when Augustine arrived and set about his conversion programme. Coins are probably a surer indication of influence and control than other artefacts, coinage having no great value without its consensual adoption into local economy as valid tender, and therefore the map above seems to suggest that the Kentish gateway in which Augustine squarely plonked himself had indeed been one through which considerable such control was already being exerted, and way beyond Kent itself.

We know Gregory's beef with the Merovingian kings at the time - they opted in and out of Christianity as it suited them and always on their own Germanic terms (polygamy being one aspect to their faith that they refused to surrender and which the popes had agreed to "tolerate").

This makes me wonder just what Augustine's actual brief really was. Far from being a pagan territory ripe for conversion could it have been perhaps that the pope had become alarmed that Merovingian Christianity, something even worse than heathenism in his view, was establishing itself across southern Britain? It would certainly explain why Kent received first priority on the agenda, and might even explain why Aidan and Cuthbert, themselves representative of a challenge to papal authority, also might have agreed to lend their weight to the programme too.

What makes it really interesting is that just prior to Augustine's arrival the Merovingian elite had cut a deal with Columbanus himself - the lad who was leading the Hiberno-Scottish Christian monastic mission - and had endowed the missionary handsomely regarding establishing Ionian monastic missions throughout their territories. This would have represented a huge blow to the papacy. For a start the Merovingians were the only big Germanic players without an Arian elite (the real enemy in papal eyes) and all previous popes' tolerance of their heathen habits had been to keep them at least nominally in their camp, a policy that Gregory suspected deeply would come back and bite him in the bum. A similar tolerance extended by Ionian monastics who carried almost as much theological weight in these climes could spell the end of papal authority for good in Northern Europe.

These were big stakes. In my view Augustine's intervention in Southern Britain must have been no less than to drive a wedge into this area of influence, not only to halt its western expansion but to also effectively drive a divide as much as he could up through this new Ionian/Merovingian "alliance" before it too could develop much further.

None of this makes any sense if one presupposes the "Britain" in which Augustine arrived to be largely pagan. It makes perfect sense however if what Britain hosted at that time was a population with a high percentage of semi- demi- and non-aligned Christians in the pope's view. And in such a high-stake manoeuvre, where the pope and Augustine at least to begin with had less stick than carrot to offer, the inducement to the locals to comply must have entailed a pragmatic "tolerance" of deviation similar to what was being extended to the Franks, but this time one extended to Christians who at the very least stayed within Ionian bounds (which were vehemently anti-Arian too) while nominally subject to papal authority in the form of new bishoprics appointed with his approval. It stopped them potentially slipping into Arianism (always the big fear), isolated them from further European influence excepting the pope's, and deferred the showdown with Ionian theology to another day (Whitby would occur before the century was out and be regarded as a purely British affair).

This also makes sense of the "temple" reconsecration references that abound in the traditional history of the period. Nowhere in the history of that time and area does one associate temple (or even church) communal mass attendance at grass roots town and village level with the monastic tradition. This was not how the monastic system operated, its own church buildings largely restricted geographically to individual bases of operation or, as had become popular in the meantime, hermitages sometimes with associated chapels which were most often out of the way anyway and not conducive to communal worship. Nor do we associate Saxon, Angle or Jute paganism with temple worship, or at least not with buildings described as temples or which would lend themselves anyway, like basilicæ, to repurposing as Christian churches. The "temples" referred to must surely already have been Christian churches, though ones operating outside papal remit, and which spread far into Britain, into lands traditionally ascribed pagan status but which - thanks to already established Frankish links (and probably others) - had already been organised into dioceses, bishoprics or similar.

So back to Norfolk again. The recently excavated graves are not a million miles away from the distinctive church of St Andrews in Great Ryburgh, the foundations of which we know date back to Saxon times, and indeed one in which the graves' occupants must conceivably have worshipped while alive. Its unusual round tower, which also dates back foundationally to its first manifestation, is a design found now and again in ancient parish churches of the general area and from the same time. No explanation apart from local aesthetics is normally offered for this distinctive architecture, but could it be a remnant of this period when the so-called "pagan" Angles contained within their number communities of Christians looking east rather than south for spiritual authority?



Could Augustine's mission therefore not actually have been to convert Britain to Christianity at all, but rather to convert it from Christianity as it had taken root, and with deep roots at that if the diocesan influence over continental laity which Augustine was also instructed to address was in any way prevalent? I am warming more and more to the ancient departed of Great Ryburgh - perhaps in their newly disinterred state they might yet yield some clues to what had really transpired in their probably Angle / probably Saxon / and even probably Frankish (but probably not pagan) neck of the woods in the century or two before their burial.

 Interesting claims Nordmann.

I did in the time a study about the Anglo-Saxon relationship on both sides of the Channel in South-England and Normandy. It was started by a thread on a French forum: "Pourquoi la Normandie n'est elle pas dans le Pas-de-Calais?" (Why was Normandy not in the Pas-de-Calais?)
I started a new thread on Historum with the including of the two French threads about the subject:
http://historum.com/european-history/71943-early-middle-ages-nord-pas-de-calais-flemish-coast.html

There is a lot to learn also from the toponymy of the suffix: -ham, -heim,-ghem,-gem -ingam (house of)...when it is -church, -kerke, -kirch you can assume that it was from the Christianised period.

But back to your subject. I did some quick research and yes there seems to be some controversy:
https://goo.gl/UDfkge
https://historyitm.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/amos.pdf


As you read these texts your assumptions seems quite plausible.

Kind regards, Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Wed 23 Nov 2016, 21:20

Thanks for the links, Paul. The first one I could not access, but the second one written by the undergraduate was interesting. I disagree with several of her conclusions, though had they been instead presented as worthwhile conjecture then they would sound equally as valid as many others, and still streets ahead of the traditional version. Her dismissal of Ian Wood's theories in order to pursue her own divergent analysis requires longer and more detailed justification than her article allowed, which is also a pity. By my reckoning Wood is the one historian who has actually attempted most to avoid wild conjecture and at least ground most of it when it occurs on extant information.

One thing she, Wood and I would agree on however is the papacy taking advantage of the divisions within Merovingian rule in the post-Clovis era. Gregory was not to know how long this would last, had little influence on its course (though he did his damndest to widen any gulfs that cropped up), and it is no coincidence at all that this was the opportune time to send Augustine.

Where I completely disagree with her however is her complete dismissal of any Frankish influence in Southern Britain, and also in that Gregory was "completely unaware" of Christians in Britain. The first would seem to be supported by common sense alone, though archaeology also tends to back it up too, and the second actually contradicts Gregory's own words, especially his instruction to get the existing bishops onside or else replace them, a quite specific admission that he knew they were there, and moreover knew on which theological side their faith was buttered and didn't like it one bit.

It was Bede and Bede alone who surmised that Augustine's first aborted attempt was down to alarm at "English savagery". It was more likely down to Æthelberht's cold feet regarding providing him with political (and we must assume some military) backing, which of course makes perfect sense if one assumes that the Kentish king of the time also had to wait to see what happened between the Merovingian brothers before he knew how to proceed either.

I applaud her bravery in wondering if the Jutes ever existed quite as Bede described - I have argued before that ecclesiastical histories of the day are far removed from what we call history now, and that some rather sweeping claims were often made politically by writers like Bede, in sharp contrast to the tediously explained contemporaneous theological developments to which they act as backdrop and which are the real point of the exercise anyway. To do so however in the company of English traditionalists is tantamount these days to heresy (like stressing the Hibernian roots to a lot of what shaped England politically in the period too). But yet it answers a lot of questions if one replaces their so-called presence and areas of power and influence with an ascription instead to Merovingian Frankish roots. She doesn't go quite that extra mile, but then she has a graduation to think about.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Wed 23 Nov 2016, 22:14

Thank you very much Nordmann for the interesting reply.
As for the link you can't open:
Anglo-Saxon England volume 22 by Lapidge
https://books.google.be/books?id=2-tZWml3s0cC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

Read from page 30 on...

Kind regards, Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Wed 23 Nov 2016, 22:35

I know the book well, Paul. The archaeology is quite out of date, as are therefore many of the assumptions, though it did at the time call into question the assumed Anglian "kingdom's" political boundaries as had been suggested by Bede, as even then the archaeology then known was pointing to a rather schizophrenic population had Bede been correct, with its southern people living quite different lives to their northern co-patriots, an anomaly normally considered evidence against ethnic, cultural or political hegemony, but in the traditional assessment of "pre-Christian" Britain simply ignored.

When it comes to just how much influence Francia exerted in Southern Britain the traditional consensus is none, which means some very inventive ways have to be imagined to explain the extant evidence. To me this is a case of wanting to have one's cake and devour it blind - either the Franks were the most benignly generous people with their coins, goods and burial customs, allowing total strangers to adopt all of these things, or else they were the most careless people ever with their possessions and bodies. The reality, or at least what would be a normal assumption given the same evidence, is that Bede just left them out for reasons best known to himself.

But not to worry - examining the same situation from continental sources, including papal sources, actually provides a clearer depiction of both concerted and incidental political involvement by Merovingian forces in the area at the time. They may have ruled through a client system - and Æthelberht himself may well have been such a client - or at times simply through filial alliance - and Æthelberht again may have represented this through his marriage. Either way they were in the picture, and Augustine seems to have been instructed quite explicitly to remove them from the picture if at all possible.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Thu 24 Nov 2016, 14:31

With Great Ryburgh in mind, I've been reading up about the man who tradition states (a la Bede again) was the one who first brought Christianity to East Anglia.

Badly, as it turns out, or at least if Bede is to be believed. Rædwald is a little enigmatic, even in his traditional description which goes more or less thus: He's a king, that much is clearly stated, but a subordinate king to our Kentish friend Æthelberht. So when Æthelberht goes under Augustine's cosh Rædwald, presumably while visiting Kent, opts to convert too. He's ascribed both Anglian and Saxon identity depending on the reference (the name is Saxon) and his actual kingly status in East Anglia is rather more inferred than stated, so we cannot deduce much regarding the actual political relationship or definitions in play regarding Kent and Anglia at the time (though this has not stopped traditionalists in the slightest in the past).

What happens however in the official story is rather telling, at least if one is questioning the declared absence of Christianity in the area prior to 604CE, the alleged date of his baptism. His initial conversion goes swimmingly and is notched up officially as one of Augustine's initial successes. And, according to the traditional take on events what should happen next is straightforward. King gets converted. King goes home. Subjects follow suit.

The first clue that he mightn't have been as much of a king as Bede averred is what happens when he goes "back" to East Anglia. For one thing he doesn't (or possibly can't) set up an episcopal structure, number one requirement of a king under the mission's rules. He does however establish a physical church which, says Bede, he quickly customises so that it serves as a place to worship Christ with an extra altar set up for worshipping of "devils". Bede stresses that he didn't convert the population anyway, so one wonders who he expected to join him in this two-altared affair and his apparently hybrid faith.

Rænwald is presumed by the way to be the occupant of Mound One at Sutton Hoo - in which case those who buried him at least seemed blissfully unaware of any even partial Christian conversion. Or could it be that we have interpreted the mound all wrong anyway? But I digress ...

So Rænwald, in the official version at least, is classed as an apostate, meaning that East Anglia had to wait a little longer until his son Eorpwald, this time opting for baptism as subordinate king under Edwin of Northumbria, went down much the same road. In fact so much of the same road did he go down that he too was deemed by Bede as not a real Christian at all (Bede neglects to tell us how father and son ended up as subordinate kings to two very different regimes to their north and south) and again the subjects didn't follow suit. Though maybe they just never got a chance as Eorpwald was assassinated pretty soon after coming back - whether this was by disgruntled "devil worshippers" or not is not stated.

However this is where it gets even more interesting. Eorpwald's brother, Sigeberht (good Frankish name by the way) has been in exile in Gaul (read Francia) all this time and has, according to Bede, been converted to the one true faith while a guest there. He comes back and this time, says Bede, the thing was done right. Sigeberht organises the bishoprics required by Augustine's conditions of club membership and even invites an expert in to make sure the job goes smoothly, a lad called St Felix of Burgundy.

If anything Felix is even more enigmatic than Rædwald and his family. We must assume he was Frankish, hailing from Burgundy, but Bede seems to want to deliberately obscure this identity (he just hated using the word Frank at all), stressing that he was ordained there but could have come from anywhere really, and anyway it wasn't important compared to what he achieved in East Anglia, which goes like this: Sigeberht appoints Felix as first bishop of the Angles, thereby guaranteeing that both he and Felix get credit thereafter for introducing Christianity to the "kingdom" (we're still not sure just what kind of "kingdom" this actually was - everything from their wildly shifting subordination to neighbours and the sheer variety of ethnic pointers in their archaeological remains from the period seem to point to a gross assumption being made regarding just how they were set up and administered at all). And what is the first thing this "first bishop" does? He summons the other bishops and tells them who's now boss and how things are going to be done from now on.

It doesn't take much to see just a hint of an anomaly in this approach to converting so-called pagans. But that's the official version.

So back to the "apostate" Rænwald and his "devil worshipping". It's a pity we don't know where his particular two-altar church was situated, especially if - as Felix found - it was in all likelihood run by a bishop and was therefore probably even classed as a cathedral. It is a pity also that we can't locate the boundaries of these lads' "kingdom", or for that matter deduce from sources other than Bede exactly what it was and how it operated within the shifting political influences to which South-East Britain was then subjected. What we know from Bede is that it was Anglian, and definitely not Frankish in any way, just like Kent was Jute and definitely not Frankish in any manner either, and as a result have traditionally been forced to retrogressively adduce a Jute "kingdom" divided into two chunks separated by almost a hundred miles, and an Anglian "kingdom" which - depending on how you want to interpret Bede - was either confined to the wet bits of Norfolk or which stretched up to the Picts and Irish up north (I have heard this explained as a "federation" of sorts, but that is just to keep the Northumbrians happy who would of course lose a whole lot of historical prestige should they be left out).

What these places can't be, according to traditionalists, is Frankish, or Frankish clients, or Frankish dependencies, or even aware of Francia at all except when Bede says that Augustine (and Felix) arrived via there or when the archaeology inconveniently demonstrates that something other than just trade with Francia was prevalent in the crucial period before the arrival of Augustine's mission.

Which brings us back to the Franks, who all parties admit were Christian (though not quite in line with papal approval in the matter) and moreover Christians who fully endorsed the episcopal administration of their flock. And if, as Bede seems intent to ignore, they held influence in the region, part of which must surely have been an extension of this administrative model (as Felix found out when he arrived), then surely it follows that Rænwald's apostasy, along with everyone else's presumably, was less to do with not believing in the Christ God than it was with not doing it in a way which pleased the pope - in other words exactly the same gripe he had against the Merovingian Franks, period.

PS. I just read that the round tower structure in Great Ryburgh is one of no less than 124 such churches still extant in the general area and are pretty much unique to the area too. Also it appears that dating their foundations can be problematic in that some seem to predate "Christianity". I would tentatively suggest that the next time we find such a site to excavate we keep a sharp eye open for a "devils" altar, just in case. If it says "Frank made this" on the base I'd be a happy little devil worshipper.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Thu 24 Nov 2016, 20:05

Thank you very much again for your last post Nordmann. It reads as a detective novel.

Kind regards, Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Thu 24 Nov 2016, 22:15

Nordmann,

did some further quick research on the net about the Frankish presence in Kent.

Found this:
https://www.academia.edu/1146664/Between_Frankish_and_Merovingian_Influences_in_Early_Anglo-Saxon_Sussex_fifth-Seventh_centuries_


A critic: an Amos Sara
http://www.medievalists.net/2013/09/frankish-involvement-in-the-gregorian-mission-to-kent/
https://historyitm.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/amos.pdf

But if I have quite understood it, Sara speaks only of the Frankish (Merovingian?) involvement in Kent and not as we say about the pre-existing Frankish presence in Kent even before the 7th century? And as you say it is quite normal that they had already some kind! of Christian belief or adherence before too?

Kind regards, Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Thu 24 Nov 2016, 22:33

This more recent article (a Word document - so open in protected view) assesses what we now know about Frankish (as opposed to Kentish or Saxon) finds over phases A, B and C which can be associated with Frankish people and not just assumed gifts or trade goods finding their way in, and not only in Kent but throughout southern Britain - in other words up to and including the arrival of Augustine. It ends with a rather bold statement - something even Ian Wood, who at least conjectured about Merovingian inroads being stronger than traditionally believed, might have been reticent to claim back in the early 90s. It concludes thus:

The range of evidence over the three phases of the study period appears to demonstrate the sustained presence of a small number of Frankish people, whose societal roles in Britain can only be conjectured.  They seem to appear as spouses, as free weapon-bearers, in some cases as probable lords (whether as warlords or as landowners) and perhaps even as entrepreneurs and traders.


Personally I reckon that if I was a Frankish warlord or landowner who found myself based in Kent, East Sussex, Sussex, Wessex, Hamwic, or even the non-descript Anglian political entity of which Great Ryburgh was a hamlet at one time, with responsibility therefore for a community of fellow Frankish entrepreneurs and traders, not to mention all the Frankish "free weapon bearers" (ie. non-slave males) and even therefore quite a few Frankish slaves, who don't get a mention above as they are poorly represented in the archaeological record, not to speak of the wives of the weapon bearers, and probably a good chunk of locals, and if I was a Christian (being Frankish a really strong possibility), and my co-patriots were Christians, and by extension all the spouses and slaves were probably obliged to be Christian too wherever we'd picked them up, then I imagine I'd see my way to building a church or two (or three or four), and even set up a bishop (or five) to keep things in running order. After all, our eternal salvation was at stake here, including my own soul.

Which sort of suggests that, whatever Bede may have thought, it seems highly unlikely that Augustine arrived into a non-episcopal void, whether the Jutes/Saxons/Angles/Britons cared to join in or not. I'm not even sure they wouldn't have joined in. If a local warlord wants Christian bums on seats in the church he's built for you I assume it was as wise then as it would be now to park one there. And if you already had anything ranging from mild curiosity to some half-baked notion of devotion to this mystery cult you'd probably attend anyway.


Last edited by nordmann on Thu 24 Nov 2016, 22:50; edited 2 times in total
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Thu 24 Nov 2016, 22:35

Crossed posts, Paul - I'll read the new article you linked to. It looks interesting too. The other articles in your links are an abstract of our undergraduate friend's previous article and then her article again, as you had posted before.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Thu 24 Nov 2016, 23:55

nordmann wrote:
Irish people seemed to "suddenly" find themselves out from under its control, even with some disbelief that such a momentous shift had occurred at all. But of course it hadn't really happened suddenly. The church had encouraged and availed itself of a compliant and obedient laity which itself had undergone a fundamental, gradual, but inexorable demographic transformation in the post-war decades. It had simply failed to keep up, and when this shift accelerated towards the century's end, the church was in no position anymore to even try.

While this all sounds off-topic, as you say, I imagine that it actually isn't, in that many facets of this case of what at first glance appears to be mass-disillusionment with an existing religious organisation and the notions it had peddled so successfully before must surely also have been mirrored in that huge demographic seismic event which was the end of Roman rule in Britain.

Just to add to the pertinent points made regarding the slow but gradual decline in power of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland from the 1960s onwards, was the double-whammy which came in the 1990s  in the form of the unprecedented 'Celtic Tiger' economic boom (1994-2008) in southern Ireland and the contemporaneous peace process in Northern Ireland. Allegiance to the Catholic Church which had hitherto been seen as an essential tribal badge of identity for large sections of the population suddenly became superfluous to requirement in many ways.

With regard to the view that in Britain there was virtually no Christian (or even pseudo-Christian) practice for the 200 years between the time of the departure of the Romans to the arrival of Augustine, then that certainly doesn't compute. A look at the myriad Orthodox sects currently active in the British Isles gives an indication of how varied interpretations of Christianity can tick over quietly for a long period of time. For example the British Orthodox Church marked its 150th anniversary this year. Needless to say that the Orthodox churches also make quite a deal about their identification with the pre-Schism church in Britain including Roman Britain. Here's a newsletter from an Orthodox community in Norfolk:

http://saintfursey.uk/Newsletter%20August%202016.pdf

Note the reference to the 'Roman Fortress'.

P.S. Also of interest to some, might be the reference to Mother Mary, an Orthodox nun living on Unst in Shetland, who featured on the BBC's An Island Parish series earlier this year.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Fri 25 Nov 2016, 12:00

The Orthodox British Church people are a good example of what happens when Christians are left to decide their own history, and when a fair few of them know how to reverse engineer that history using plausible (but ultimately egregiously dishonest) techniques. It's not so much what's left in - though even this gets mangled sometimes - but what gets left out that defines their actual theology to an outsider. Your point however that they show how no amount of dictate from on high will ultimately dissuade religious people from ploughing their own furrow is a good one, and relevant, though maybe not in the sense that it throws much light on actual events in the period in question. But it does help illustrate the probability that some kind of independent theological continuity existed among people living in Britain between the Roman period and Augustine with regard to Christian as much as any other faith, however mangled, reverse engineered, or even completely divergent this form of continuity may have manifested itself. In such a fractured and disjointed ex-province with increasingly isolated communities coping with extreme stresses exerted by migrations and deprivation I would suggest it could hardly have been otherwise.

I'm more interested in the bits Bede left out when he did, though in his defence I am one of those who reckons this wasn't through any kind of open malevolence against historical fact on his personal part, but through an honest attempt at cobbling together a cohesive story based on sometimes extremely imperfect data. It is very revealing to examine his sources, most of which he cited (unusually for someone in his day doing what he was doing). It is obvious, for example, that he learnt nothing from any Anglian source ever, and that everything he wrote about Anglia he got from Northumbrian records, such as they were. This explains also why his geographical assumptions about this kingdom's extent and his failure to describe any consistent relationship between it and its neighbours keep popping up in his narrative. He wasn't really sure himself if the place had ever really been a kingdom in the sense accepted in his day, and so he takes great pains to point out to whom among "real" royalty its kings were essentially vassal. This ambiguity is reflected in the modern archaeological record too, so as an historian who hedged his bets in the matter he was quite intelligently anticipating later historical theory by over a thousand years.

It is his omission of the Franks, and especially the competing Merovingian offshoots, enjoying any meaningful role in pre-Augustinian Britain however which comes across as more deliberate on his part, even to the extent of possibly ignoring records which might have contradicted this view. At least some of the ecclesiastic records to which we have access today and which describe this interaction in some detail (for example the diplomacy behind Bertha's marriage to Æthelberht) were conceivably there also for Bede to find out about and use if he wished. But if it wasn't just bad luck on Bede's part not to have seen them, and he actually had seen them but then decided just to ignore them, while not beinge as forgiveable as his Anglian confusion, this is still actually quite understandable in his circumstances.

For Bede, and indeed for all monastic Christians in his particular British milieu at that time, there had to be a starting point for the non-monastic tradition which crucially post-dated the monastic one. Anything less would tend to invalidate the then still potent monastic claim to have spiritual authority throughout great reaches of the British Isles still well beyond the reach of Canterbury or York (and even further afield continentally by his day), a precedental claim which after Whitby became almost the only useful item in their armoury when claiming such authority. There was however also a huge compunction to illustrate the rather political point that the monastic church was not, through claiming this precedence, overtly opposed to papal authority. The Merovingian post-Clovis offshoots, and by Bede's time their still pretty powerful and still pretty inter-competitive descendants, were still very much wild cards in this respect and potentially dangerous for everyone peddling the faith, not just the monasteries. Back the wrong horse in that particular race and all could be lost, quite literally. Until that long term power struggle played itself out it was best, in Britain at least, to promote the status quo, one in which Merovingian influence was already a receding memory, and if Bede could influence matters (which he could) a forgotten memory sooner rather than later.

Bede lived too early to know about Charlemagne and the Great Reconciliation just around the corner, but then who in 731CE could have predicted that a Roman pope less than seventy years later, having just escaped his own flock trying to gouge out his eyes and tear out his tongue, would have run to a Frankish monarch of all people for help? The elevation of Charlemagne to "Roman Emperor" not only provided the pope at last with real military capability in Europe that facilitated pushing the party line with some vehemence thereafter, but also effectively wiped out overnight the whole "Franks do Christianity their own way" thing overnight. In fact from that point on the Franks effectively wrote their own Merovingian conduct out of history, or at least attempted to. Ironically it would be the European monasteries on the continent, most of which had been founded in Bede's own tradition, that largely preserved the more embarrassing of these historical records (probably for insurance purposes).

What irks me though is that while all this was completely understandable regarding Bede and his flexible arrangement with historical truth, and was maybe even eminently defensible in 8th century Britain, it most definitely should not be accepted these days as hard fact, especially when the archaeological record keeps highlighting the flaws in the assumption and we can, even at this late stage, work out why Bede & Co would have chosen to follow that line.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Sun 27 Nov 2016, 13:12

nordmann wrote:
 The Orthodox British Church people are a good example of what happens when Christians are left to decide their own history, and when a fair few of them know how to reverse engineer that history using plausible (but ultimately egregiously dishonest) techniques. It's not so much what's left in - though even this gets mangled sometimes - but what gets left out that defines their actual theology to an outsider.


There speaks the good postmodernist: Derrida, whom you so love to deride, would be proud of you.

Surely what you say is true, not just of "the Orthodox British Church people", but of all theologians, all historians, all philosophers? It was true of the venomous one; it is true of you; it is true of Paul's young undergraduate; it is certainly true of me. We all like to pick 'n' mix what we like to label our "hard facts"; but of course we are selective; and, as Derrida taught, what we leave out - or what gets "left out" (is the active or the passive voice more appropriate here?) -  will always return to unsettle our "truth". We all have our little - or, if one is a Pope or a Bede, big - agendas, conscious or unconscious, whatever we may claim to the contrary. It's just some of us are just "more egregiously dishonest" than others - or perhaps simply more egregious?


nordmann wrote:
What irks me though is that while all this was completely understandable regarding Bede and his flexible arrangement with historical truth, and was maybe even eminently defensible in 8th century Britain, it most definitely should not be accepted these days as hard fact, especially when the archaeological record keeps highlighting the flaws in the assumption and we can, even at this late stage, work out why Bede & Co would have chosen to follow that line.

Ah - those old friends, "hard facts", again. What exactly are "hard facts", please? But perhaps this is one for the historiography section.

I have enjoyed reading the posts here - a period of history about which I know nothing. But can someone explain to me why I feel so horribly uneasy? I feel I am being manipulated - again. Is it my fevered (literally - see new thread) imagination? Probably. But I still wonder if Bede, nordmann and the good folk at the University of Leicester all have something in common.


PS When looking up Saint Walpurga ( who was born just up the road from me), I discovered that she had been sent as a missionary to the Franks. From Wiki:

Born
c. 710
Devon

Died
25 February 777 or 779
Heidenheim (Mittelfranken)

Venerated in
Roman Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Church

Canonized
870 by Adrian II

Feast
Various days

Patronage
Eichstätt, Antwerp and other towns

Saint Walpurga or Walburga (Old English: Wealdburg, Latin: Valpurga, Walpurga, Walpurgis; c. AD 710 – 25 February 777 or 779), also spelled Valderburg or Guibor,[1] was an English missionary to the Frankish Empire. She was canonized on 1 May ca. 870 by Pope Adrian II. Walpurgis Night (or "Walpurgisnacht") is the name for the eve of her day, which coincides with May Day.

Walpurga was born in the county of Devonshire, England, into a local aristocratic family. She was the daughter of St. Richard the Pilgrim, one of the underkings of the West Saxons, and of Winna, sister of St. Boniface, Apostle of Germany, and had two brothers, St. Willibald and St. Winibald. Saint Richard is buried in the Basilica of San Frediano, Lucca, where he died on pilgrimage in 722. Saint Richard is also known as Richard the Saxon Pilgrim, of Droitwich.

Religious career

St. Richard, when starting with his two sons on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, entrusted Walburga, then 11 years old, to the abbess of Wimborne. Walpurga was educated by the nuns of Wimborne Abbey, Dorset, where she spent 26 years as a member of the community. She then travelled with her brothers, Willibald and Winebald, to Francia (now Württemberg and Franconia) to assist Saint Boniface, her mother's brother, in evangelizing among the still-pagan Germans. Because of her rigorous training, she was able to write her brother Winibald's vita and an account in Latin of his travels in Palestine. As a result, she is often called the first female author of both England and Germany.



PPS  "Willibald and Winibald" - what wonderful names - MM take note for future moggies.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Sun 27 Nov 2016, 16:13

Sorry to hear you were ill, Temp. I hope your posts today indicate a return to good health.

This is the second time you have referred to cherry-picking in this thread. The first time I felt was misplaced as it implied that people of the early Saxon period had a selection of theologies available to them (much as we do today) from which they could subjectively pick the bits that suited them. I would have assumed the opposite was the case, and in fact a very real requirement to invest in a theological belief forced many simply into choosing whatever prevalent notions and systemic theological structures might have presented themselves to them within very narrow options indeed.

This second use of the term seems to refer to cherry-picking historical fact from an available selection, which if anything is a more serious allegation. Bede, for example, could be suspected of doing this in some cases though in fact I imagine he was rather guilty of another historiographically unethical practice (to modern minds, and even post-modern minds whatever the hell that actually describes), in which a dearth of factual data is still made to construct a narrative that in fact extends well beyond the scope of that data. This happens a lot in retrospection, period, so is an almost unavoidable "crime" in compiling historical narratives. To be fair to Bede he included deduction based on dodgy data which wasn't always complimentary to his own church's reputation, so even if he was being subjectively biased it was on the whole towards the compilation of a credible history, not an agenda that necessarily promoted ecclesiastical virtues beyond a point where historical data could sustain them.

I also don't appreciate the allegation being made against myself in this case either. I reckon what I am trying to achieve with this thread (and obviously failing in your eyes) is to attempt to discover the bits that indeed might have been omitted by others who were, in fact, presumably therefore guilty of cherry-picking or indeed distorting historical data as you also seem to agree has indeed occurred in the past. I am hoping to reassemble the cherry tree if anything, not prune it further.

Your historical neighbour actually is very much a case in point. Does it not strike one as odd that Walpurga should be sent in the early 8th century to convert German pagans within a Frankish kingdom that was Christian even before her own people? At least if the traditional account (as you cite above) is to make any sense?

When I lived in Germany it was in a place in which Walpurga was still much venerated, as was her mentor and uncle Boniface. If you read the ecclesiastical histories as represented by the Ratisbon (Regensburg) chronicles however you will get a whole different slant on what was going on. Boniface (like Felix in Anglia) arrives as "the very first" Archbishop of Mainz and immediately summons all the local bishops (these "pagan" guys according to British tradition) to reject "adoptionism", then a form of Christian belief which had spread from Christians within the Umayyad dynasty and into southern Frankish territories. Dynamic monarchianism, its other name, is really that old Arian bug-bear of the rejection of the Trinity again, a particular belief (in one indivisible god) which we know was interpreted at various points in the Church's history as the most dangerous heresy of all.

Is it not more reasonable to assume therefore that Boniface's mission (and remember this was very much a Rome-approved venture, not one aligned with Ionian church missionary policy being conducted further north in Europe by missionaries from further north in Britain) was not to convert pagans but to ensure that this heresy was stamped out? Walpurga's base at Heidenheim, at the would-be centre of this so-called "pagan" territory, was not a million miles from where I lived and its archaeology, like Regensburg's, is fascinating, with a demonstrable history back to Roman occupation (just as in Britain) but with one undisturbed by mass migrations or huge secular upheaval (unlike Britain) and - surprise, surprise - which shows evidence of monastic settlement in the grounds of Walpurga's own abbey dating back two to three hundred years before she even arrived. If this is paganism it is a very strange version of it.

I cannot answer your question about why you might feel manipulated. I suppose anyone asked to confront long-held assumptions which may not be as solid as they thought might naturally feel insecure about adopting any alternative view. I don't really know, myself. Personally I relish challenges to presumption based on historical data (and I agree that one must set aside epistemological quibbles about the nature of fact in these circumstances) and tend to feel more manipulated when attemptedly constrained by convention or, worse, insisted upon by others to restrict myself to narrow interpretation in accord with convention but based on obviously self-contradictory data.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Mon 28 Nov 2016, 07:17

"Insecure" and "constrained" are all rather emotive words, nordmann. I am simply being wary, having being taught - mainly by you over the years - to be cautious about too enthusiastic a response to even the most erudite and persuasive of posts. Even yours, sir.

As for your arboreal aspirations, no "allegation" (another emotive choice) or negative imputation was intended: I was merely noting that no historian is ever unbiased, however "hard" or "factual" he (or she) fancies himself (herself) to be. We all bring baggage to a subject. No one can be truly "neutral": it is impossible, especially when anything "religious" is under discussion.

PS That clarified, my I add that I am enjoying the thread very much and find your comments immensely interesting. This is not a placatory grovel; I mean it. But one must keep an open mind, mustn't one? (No sarky comment about that, please.)
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Mon 28 Nov 2016, 08:12

Thanks, Temp. I put the word "confused" in the thread's title with intent, the press releases as initially issued in relation to the Norfolk find I reckoned to be yet more proof that a particular version of a 1300 year old account of pre-Augustinian Britain was (rather amazingly given the wealth of archaeology related to the period) still being unquestioningly, lazily even, trotted out for general consumption. I do not claim to know any more than this research has revealed, or indeed know all this research, except of course that it has demonstrated that there are sufficient inherent contradictions in the "traditional" version of events to warrant some healthy dubiousness when it is used to explain anything, especially when interpreting new archaeological data.

The traditional version's lack of reliability has implications for much more than how we interpret early British Christianity - the same could be said for what the Saxon hegemony actually was and how it had come about, the nature of kingship and kingdoms in sub-Roman Britain, and of course the actual nature and impact of population migrations in the period. None of these issues are served well historically by what purports to be an "historical" narrative based largely on an overt ecclesiastical history and a secular historical chronicle compiled largely through ecclesiastic channels and crucially based on biased sources which themselves require to be understood before interpretation can really proceed.

These are normal challenges when analysing archaic data, and in the case of all the other issues mentioned above there has been a considerable amount of progress made in recent times establishing a narrative which, though deemed revisionist when compared solely to the traditional account, has by now garnered as much if not more credence than that account through the sheer weight of archaeological and other evidence which has been accumulated in the process of investigating it. Yet somehow the status and nature of Christianity in Britain has escaped such revision except within the most academic end of historical research - that which is presented to the public at large is still largely an interpretation of Bede's account which crucially assumes the principle of "re-introduction" of Christianity into a land in which it had somehow "disappeared".

I'm not sure, when reading Bede myself, that this is even what the guy had intended to infer in his Ecclesiastical History. After all he himself was a monk in a monastery which owed its own organisational roots to a phenomenon which pre-dated Augustinian involvement, as he would have been well aware of too. I believe that what we have come to regard as the traditional interpretation however probably came about in fact in rather more recent times when the notion that anything worthwhile or precedent having originated in a Hiberno-Scottish context in a British imperial hierarchy in which England should be regarded as the primary element offended nationalist sensibilities. Nothing was re-written or falsified per se, but there was certainly incentive enough to disregard, demean or ignore certain inherent contradictions in the historical account, and so the "school curriculum" version which held sway for so long was born.

This is not a purely British phenomenon. In Ireland for example, for much the same nationalistic reasons, the same period from the 18th to 20th century saw a repackaging of early Christian history also which suited the "new" narrative requirements, and it has proved to be a huge job to now sort the modern myth from the actual data there too (we won't even start with what's happened in Wales). The irony in Ireland of course is that if they had left well enough alone and not tried to exaggerate and distort the data through self-serving and biased interpretation they would have facilitated, as research techniques improved, an interpretation of events which elevated the cultural importance of the Christian phenomenon in that island to one of European significance, a process which of course involved initiatives developed and launched from "Britain" too (it was this element of Ireland and "mainland Britain" acting to an extent as one polity in any sense - and especially religious - which offended Irish nationalist senses). This is slowly changing in Ireland and modern histories tend to stress the "insulæ" aspect to this part of early Christian history (which when pursued not only relegates Augustine's traditional role in the Christianising process but probably that of Patrick too). This approach is obliged to investigate therefore at least the possibility that a Christianity of sorts was present on the island (and maybe even on all the islands) prior to these "missions of conversion", a not unreasonable assumption when viewed in light of what we know in relation to everywhere else in Europe where Roman rule disintegrated and the long timescales involved in that process, a crucial aspect to understanding the dynamic of any sub-Roman development or initiative in any of the affected areas.

And of course I use emotive words. It's history dammit! If you can't get passionate about history ...
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Mon 28 Nov 2016, 12:26

Yes, the traditional narratives throughout these isles is at least as notable for what it leaves out as for what it includes. One more local example would be the not very often commented upon references in Patrick's letter to Coroticus to 'apostate Picts', what's that about? These are usually thought to be the Southern Picts so somewhere around Galloway so were they a sub-Roman hangover being in an area of at least Roman influence and a major trading centre or where do they fit in with the Ninian (or Finnians) Candida Casa story which is itself contested and decidedly uncertain. As far as I recall there's nothing to confirm the postulated 4th c dates for Christian influence at Whithorn, the earliest archaeological evidence I think is the 7th c cemetery.

Both Patrick and Ninian are described as 'sent by Rome' so are we seeing here other examples of the heretics being brought back into line?


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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Mon 28 Nov 2016, 13:05

This is probably not relevant, but it made me laugh. Pelagius was considered to be a right trouble-maker and he was British:

Pelagius was born about 354-360. He is said by his contemporaries, such as Augustine of Hippo, Prosper of Aquitaine, Marius Mercator, and Paul Orosius, to have been of British origin. Jerome apparently thought that Pelagius was Irish, suggesting that he was "stuffed with Irish porridge" (Scotorum pultibus praegravatus). Tall in stature and portly in appearance, Pelagius was highly educated. He spoke and wrote Latin and Greek with great fluency and was well versed in theology.


"Scotorum pultibus praegravatus" - poor old Pelagius. Bit sharp of Jerome, I feel.

Pelagius was officially declared heretical by the Council of Carthage - the one held (I think) in 418.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Mon 28 Nov 2016, 13:16

Why do I always feel that the Pelagian heresy should have something to do with fish?
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Mon 28 Nov 2016, 13:26

EDIT: I was just about to send this when I saw your post, Temp. Don't scoff too much about Pelagius, or indeed that he was associated with Ireland, or for that matter hailed from then "pagan" Britain (how does that work?). It all actually make sense if one steps a bit back from the shorthand version.

Clues abound, ferval. Besides the "apostate pagans" (Picts and, if I recall, everyone on the Isle of Man too), as opposed to (I assume) the "pagan pagans", and the convenient overlooking of the small matter of Britain having already had three centuries of Christian tradition in some shape or form prior to their "requirement" to be converted (unless Pelagius was a "heretical pagan"), there is the little matter of what the hell went screwy in Ireland, even within the "official" tradition.

As the simplified story goes the island in the third century is full of pagans (and snakes etc) with not a Christian in sight. Patrick arrives on his Roman errand. He sets up bishoprics. He sets up churches. He recruits the local royalty with great success, who then presumably do the normal business and ensure the subjects follow suit so that even before Paddy has snuffed it he has scored a 100% top score conversion rate of the Irish to the Roman church. His big success is in getting across the whole Trinity thing (using a shamrock) even as he converts, thereby ensuring that Ireland from the get-go couldn't lapse into Arianism.

And then, incredibly, less than a hundred years later Ireland is down to a mere handful of churches that we know of, but a whole plethora of monasteries doing everything but Rome's bidding, except of course in that they go along with the Trinity thing. What gives?

The clue in that case of course is in the Palladian chapter of the story which again, while not edited out, just isn't referred to much. There are a few reasons for this. According to tradition, Palladius was authorised by Celestine to "convert" the Irish a full fifty years prior to the Patrician mission. Or at least that is one interpretation. The other is that Celestine, in his purge of Pelagianism from Rome, "banished" several leading Pelagian bishops from the vicinity to the far flung corners of the known world (this much is documented in Rome) and actually authorised no such mission of conversion that we actually know of.

So, was Palladius a Pelagian? Was his "mission" actually sanctioned at all or did it represent a huge middle finger to the lad back in Rome as he set about converting virgin territory into Pelagian Christianity? He certainly set about with gusto spreading some version of the "good news" when he arrived, so effectively it is said that he offended the king of Leinster, who promptly arrested him. And here the annals in Ireland reveal a rather odd event - at this point the king, rather than punishing Palladius in any horrible Dark Ages way, simply sends him "back" to North Britain. But why? Britain was pagan at that point, was it not? And why would Palladius, a "Gaul" (read Frank) even agree to go there, or for that matter to stay there, which is what we are told he did? In what sense was he returning "back" there at all?

Tradition has him living out his life up in your neck of the woods and being buried in Auchenblae. We don't know if he was reunited with his wife and daughter, last heard of in Francia.

There's another funny thing about Palladius in the Irish tradition (though not backed up by any Vatican documentation we know of) - before he fell out with Celestine, if such was indeed the case, he persuaded the pope to send a lad called Germanus to convert a bunch of heathens to the church, and this Germanus apparently did a great job too. His destination? Southern Britain.

Sylvester and Solinus, two lads who had accompanied Palladius to Ireland, weren't chucked out apparently and carried on the good work (so the king of Leinster can't have been all that mad really), leading one to believe that by the time Patrick arrived he really only had the snakes to tackle. Two other buddies, Augustinus (another one) and Benedictus, holed up in Scotland with him until he died and then buggered off back to Rome without converting anyone, it is said. But then, this is all from the Irish tradition which likes to advertise its precedence in conversion over the "sasanaigh", while at the same time keeping suspiciously quiet about what happened later to Patrick's great ecclesiastical foundations, which were so quickly ignored, it seems, and replaced by and large with the monastic model (and out of all the above this is at least one fact that can be supported from the archaeological record).
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Mon 28 Nov 2016, 13:32

I wasn't scoffing!! I like old Pelagius - I think he talked a lot of sense ("Pelagius stressed human autonomy and freedom of the will"). It was just Jerome's bitchy porridge comment about him that made me laugh. Sorry. Back under my stone at once.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Mon 28 Nov 2016, 14:07

I didn't mean it like that. If you won't scoff then I will. Get that stone off you - it really doesn't go with those shoes, you know.

At some point somebody has to just grab the chronology by the scruff (scoff?) of the neck and work it all out. How can Pelagius, for example, be described traditionally as a British monk, or for that matter a Scottish (ie. Irish) monk, when at that point in time there is apparently no monastic tradition anywhere in the vicinity according to the same tradition? The Council of Ephesus which condemned him was convened a year before Patrick even set sail for Ireland, when the tradition states that all the islands were languishing in paganism. However it was only twenty years after the traditional date used as the end of Roman administration in Britain. It hardly takes a history graduate (though we'll excuse undergraduates) to work out the "bleeding obvious" here. And that's even before we throw Palladius and the "get thee back to Britain" edict into the mix (another thirty years prior to the above again).
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Mon 28 Nov 2016, 14:45

So Palladius was buried in Auchenblae, in the heart of the area with probably the greatest collection of class 2 and class 3 stones in Pictland - I didn't know that. My ignorance embarrasses me often. And well before Columba had his encounter with Nessie on route to Inverness to convert the heathen Picts.

Hmmmm.


However, I must away to the shops but please keep posting, this thread has been intriguing and set me off on many a circuitous journey.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Tue 29 Nov 2016, 22:04

nordmann wrote:
This more recent article (a Word document - so open in protected view) assesses what we now know about Frankish (as opposed to Kentish or Saxon) finds over phases A, B and C which can be associated with Frankish people and not just assumed gifts or trade goods finding their way in, and not only in Kent but throughout southern Britain - in other words up to and including the arrival of Augustine. It ends with a rather bold statement - something even Ian Wood, who at least conjectured about Merovingian inroads being stronger than traditionally believed, might have been reticent to claim back in the early 90s. It concludes thus:

The range of evidence over the three phases of the study period appears to demonstrate the sustained presence of a small number of Frankish people, whose societal roles in Britain can only be conjectured.  They seem to appear as spouses, as free weapon-bearers, in some cases as probable lords (whether as warlords or as landowners) and perhaps even as entrepreneurs and traders.


Personally I reckon that if I was a Frankish warlord or landowner who found myself based in Kent, East Sussex, Sussex, Wessex, Hamwic, or even the non-descript Anglian political entity of which Great Ryburgh was a hamlet at one time, with responsibility therefore for a community of fellow Frankish entrepreneurs and traders, not to mention all the Frankish "free weapon bearers" (ie. non-slave males) and even therefore quite a few Frankish slaves, who don't get a mention above as they are poorly represented in the archaeological record, not to speak of the wives of the weapon bearers, and probably a good chunk of locals, and if I was a Christian (being Frankish a really strong possibility), and my co-patriots were Christians, and by extension all the spouses and slaves were probably obliged to be Christian too wherever we'd picked them up, then I imagine I'd see my way to building a church or two (or three or four), and even set up a bishop (or five) to keep things in running order. After all, our eternal salvation was at stake here, including my own soul.

Which sort of suggests that, whatever Bede may have thought, it seems highly unlikely that Augustine arrived into a non-episcopal void, whether the Jutes/Saxons/Angles/Britons cared to join in or not. I'm not even sure they wouldn't have joined in. If a local warlord wants Christian bums on seats in the church he's built for you I assume it was as wise then as it would be now to park one there. And if you already had anything ranging from mild curiosity to some half-baked notion of devotion to this mystery cult you'd probably attend anyway.

Nordmann, excuses so busy last days...

thank you again for your elaborated reply. As my interference was only about the Frankish presence in South England and as I had studied that in the time, I don't want to interfere further in the discussion between Vizzer, Temperance and you as my knowledge comes only from quick researches on the net and not from in depth information from literature...

Kind regards, Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Tue 29 Nov 2016, 22:14

Didn't the Welsh bishops more or less tell Augustine to get lost? Mind you, the Christianity of the tref and that of the monasteries seems to have been as divergent as the other examples.
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Wed 30 Nov 2016, 07:34

nordmann wrote:
I didn't mean it like that. If you won't scoff then I will. Get that stone off you - it really doesn't go with those shoes, you know.

At some point somebody has to just grab the chronology by the scruff (scoff?) of the neck and work it all out. How can Pelagius, for example, be described traditionally as a British monk, or for that matter a Scottish (ie. Irish) monk, when at that point in time there is apparently no monastic tradition anywhere in the vicinity according to the same tradition? The Council of Ephesus which condemned him was convened a year before Patrick even set sail for Ireland, when the tradition states that all the islands were languishing in paganism. However it was only twenty years after the traditional date used as the end of Roman administration in Britain. It hardly takes a history graduate (though we'll excuse undergraduates) to work out the "bleeding obvious" here. And that's even before we throw Palladius and the "get thee back to Britain" edict into the mix (another thirty years prior to the above again).


Trouble is we are all sometimes a little confused as to what exactly you do mean, nordmann; and we are afraid to say so for fear of looking stupid and ignorant. I've never been good at the "bleeding obvious"; wary of it, in fact, because the "bleeding obvious" often isn't what it seems to be. And as someone who doesn't even qualify as a history undergraduate (not even O-level history to my name), let alone a graduate, I suppose I may be forgiven for seeking the refuge of my stone now and again. However, emerging once more...

We used to have a "Celtic" service once a month at the little church I still just about attend. It was run by a lady who had spent several years working at Iona - a very interesting woman. She still spoke bitterly about the Synod of Whitby - much to the bemusement of most of our tiny congregation. She was a mystical soul, and, like me, was utterly useless when it came to church politics. Didn't interest her at all (only church politics from 1500 years ago did that). The service was stopped by the powers-that-be after about a year.

This is an interesting piece, although no doubt far too simplistic for you, nordmann. But some interesting quotations (well, I think so).


http://www.faithandworship.com/Celtic_Christianity.htm


Conveyed by Roman civilization, sometime during those centuries the gospel came to Britain.The earliest support for the idea that Christianity arrived in Britain early is Quintus Septimus Florens Terullianus also known simply as Tertullian (AD 155-222) who wrote in "Adversus Judaeos" that Britain had already received and accepted the Gospel in his lifetime.

‘..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 .’

Possibly the uniqueness of the early Church in Britain and Ireland (though even this is disputed by some historians), lies in the simple fact that no sooner had the Romans brought the Gospel to this far-flung outpost of the Empire than they disappeared again, leaving the fledgling Church to blossom in the midst of a formerly pagan culture. Nowhere in the history of Christianity is there so clear an instance of the Christian transformation of a pagan culture, with so little influence by the culture that brought the Christian message...

...It would seem that these early British Christians saw themselves as independent of the Roman church - as Bishop Diaothus' reply to St. Augustine on the authority of Rome in Britain would seem to indicate:

‘Be it known and declared that we all, individually and collectively, are in all humility prepared to defer to the Church of God, and to the Bishop in Rome, and to every sincere and Godly Christian, so far as to love everyone according to his degree, in perfect charity, and to assist them all by word and in deed in becoming the children of God. But as for any other obedience, we know of none that he, whom you term the Pope, or Bishop of Bishops, can demand. The deference we have mentioned we are ready to pay to him as to every other Christian, but in all other respects our obedience is due to the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Cærleon, who is alone under God our ruler to keep us right in the way of salvation’.


I suppose Constantine's "In hoc signo victor eris" should have had "as usual" added on. Those Romans never gave up - one way or another.


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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find   Wed 30 Nov 2016, 08:36

"Confused" is the theme of this thread, after all. So that's not a problem.

I had avoided Wales up to now in the discussion as, if the Picts are an open book upon which any old history can be applied with gay abandon by whoever, whenever and whyever, then the Britons who ended up isolated from "civilisation" in Wales have unfortunately suffered the same treatment, in many ways worse. The provenance of the letter from Diaothus, for example, is particularly problematic. In fact the whole "Second Synod of Chester" is problematic and may not even have happened at all. It was deduced to have occurred based on a comment in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle when a Welsh loss at a later Battle of Chester was described as a fulfillment of a prophecy by Augustine that god would make sure the Welsh get theirs at that precise location because they'd snubbed him there. The supposed letter turned up even later, and seemed to "prove" the snub had occurred. However the "snub" proved valuable in two traditions, the Bede version in which some explanation had to be found for Welsh ecclesiastical intransigence (even in his own lifetime) and the Welsh nationalistic tradition which placed (and still places) a huge value on any "evidence" of them going it alone as far back as the paper trail goes. In Wales, unfortunately, there has been so much "belated" invention of paper trails in intervening centuries that the pitch at this stage has been well and truly queered.

The bit everyone on "mainland" Britain leaves out normally, for both the above reasons traditionally, is just what kind of shared identity the Welsh and Eastern Irish might have had (whether Christian or not), and of course to what extent the Welsh Christians exercised influence, overt or subliminally, over others on their general island - especially the non-Saxons. We know that it most probably extended into southern Scotland, at least. However the refusal to contemplate that the Saxon hegemony elsewhere might not have been quite as Bede described it, and that sub-Roman Britain might still have operated in part upon a vestigial Roman demography and infrastructure, has rather limited speculation regarding the nature of Britons in general, the Welsh in particular, and the actual society therefore into which Augustine had attempted to insert his Roman doctrine among existing Christians, whatever about his plan to convert Saxons.

I think, if anything can be gleaned from the mess that is the traditional history of Welsh sub-Roman society as we are led to understand it, it is that Caerleon was a much more significant place ecclesiastically than just a Welsh hot-bed of Christianity, that Welsh Christianity when viewed as a less isolated phenomenon than tradition assumes actually supports the view that the "insulæ" Christianity already in situ when Augustine arrived had been drastically underestimated by him and his papal boss (which would have been understandable as they had not been getting reports back in Rome for yonks), and that this underestimation persists to this day in the tradition which was largely built up around Augustine's importance, and not that of the lads already in place.

And of course what we have to take from all this is just how many such lads there were, and also how pretty effective they already had been "converting" heathens to the cause, thank you very much.

Augustine, if anything, was on a "deconversion" mission, whether he appreciated this when he'd initially set out or not. He learnt on day one that he was up against Frankish Christian influence, he must have learnt pretty quickly that he was up against local pockets of Christian resistance to his brand of the faith throughout the so-called "pagan" territories, and he was left in no doubt when he came up against the Hiberno-Scottish lot (and we can include the Welsh there) that he was essentially trying to Christianise a people who had been quietly getting on with it for centuries anyway without any help from Rome, and moreover had developed a pretty effective model for the political reality in which they existed that Rome would struggle to replace.

I don't like the "Celtic" appellation much (is there a "Rangers" version too?). The Hiberno-Scottish (and Welsh) lads wouldn't have had a clue what that meant or why they should be called anything other than Christian. Culturally and politically they were pretty diverse, though at the administrative levels they were in communication (thanks to Latin) with some pretty big and diverse European players too, as the subsequent merger between their outfit and the Franks was to amply demonstrate. If they are to be tagged these days as "Celtic" then it is only fair to tag Augustine's lot as "Romance", as both words indicate vernacular tongue distinctions and little else. However I feel the "Celtic" tag is used to imply that they were somehow "fringe" players, and that would be the grossest libel of all, though I am sure one that Augustine and his mates would have heartily supported.


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Confused Christian History - the Norfolk Find

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