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A History of Yorkshire
from Bulmer's Gazetteer (1892)


Part 4

INTRODUCTION OF CHRISTIANITY.

It is impossible, in the absence of historic record, to say how or by whom the seeds of Christianity were first sown in this island. That the gospel had shed its soul-subduing light on the Britons at an early period is generally admitted. From an expression of Gildas, who lived in the sixth century, we may infer that the Christian faith was taught in this country during the first century; indeed, it is not improbable that there may have been Christian soldiers in the army that accompanied Aulus Plautius to Britain, A.D. 43. It has been supposed by some, and even asserted, that Britain was included in the missionary journeys of St. Paul. This opinion is based on the words of St. Clement, a contemporary of St. Paul, who tells us that the apostle visited "the further extremity of the west." Claudia and Pudens, mentioned by St. Paul in his 2nd Epistle to Timothy, iv., 21, are supposed, on very probable grounds, to have been among the first Britons converted to the Gospel. Claudia, it is thought, was the daughter of Caractacus, who accompanied her father when he was carried away prisoner to Rome.

Tradition has preserved the name of a British king, Lucius, or, as he was called by his Celtic subjects, Lever Maur (the great light), who sent messengers to Rome to be perfectly instructed in the Christian religion; and the names of others are known who were active in the dissemination of the Gospel. As early as the year 314 Christians were numerous in the island, and three British bishops are mentioned as having attended the Council of Arles held in that year. One of these was Eborius of York, who, we may reasonably suppose, had his church in that city; but, numerous as are the relics of Roman Britain that have been found here, there is not a single distinctly Christian memorial among them. This absence of Christian antiquities is thus explained by the Rev. H. M. Scarth in the volume of "Roman Britain," published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge :- " The site of a church, a spot once consecrated to divine worship, generally remains fixed. If the building is enlarged or rebuilt it is always n the same place. The old foundations are cleared or levelled, but the new stand upon the old. The site of a holy spot is perpetuated. There has always been the greatest reluctance to shift the site, and our churches at present, in most eases, stand on the exact spots where they stood in the earliest times. They have been rebuilt age after age, but seldom shifted; others have been added as cities extended, or as new parishes and districts were formed, but what is called the "Mother Church" generally occupies the spot where the ground was first set apart for divine worship. As the spot has generally been venerated, so on the other hand, has the material always been considered as available only for reconstruction. The materials have been torn up and worked over again, and all that can now be traced are broken bricks and fragments of stone, worked after the Roman manner, embodied in the more recent structure."

To return to Constantine, whom succeeding ages have styled "The Great." He remained in Britain six years, until called away to enter upon the contest which ended so triumphantly in his favour, and made him sole master of the Roman world. In 312 he renounced paganism and embraced Christianity; and the year following he made a solemn declaration of his sentiments in the celebrated edict of Milan, which restored peace to the Christian Church, and promulgated the principle of religious liberty.

Constantine having taken away with him the flower of the British youth to his wars in Gaul, the Picts and Scots renewed their attacks, broke through the great barrier, and penetrated far into the interior of the country; and in 326 Constans, then Emperor of the West, came over to repel the invasion. In 364 they were again on the south side of the Great Wall, and at the same time the country was harassed by the Saxons, whose predatory descents on the coast indicated their intention of seizing on a dominion which imperial Rome now held with a feeble hand.

Theodosius in 368 drove the Picts and Scots back again among their native hills, and brought the Scottish Lowlands once more under Roman rule. This was the last period of order and prosperity enjoyed by Britain while subject to the Cæsars. Troubles next arose, not from enemies beyond, but from ambition within the country. Maximus, an officer of British birth, and married to a British princess according to tradition and chronicle, had long served in the army in this island. He artfully ingratiated himself with the soldiery, and accepted from them, with apparent reluctance, the title of emperor. Not content with Britain, he collected around his standard large numbers of the native youth and nearly all the regular army, and determined to make himself master of the whole western empire. Maximus and his army carried victory along with them, and Theodosius (son of the Theodosius previously mentioned) acknowledged him as his co-equal in the empire. Maximus perished soon after in an attempt to conquer Italy. The Britons who had followed the usurper never returned to their own country. They settled in a district in the north of Gaul called Armorica, which acquired from them the name of Brittany, an appellation which still attaches to it.

Internal dissensions and external assaults were now hastening fast the downfall of the empire of Rome; and in 410, Honorius, the reigning emperor, withdrew the Roman soldiers from Britain, and by imperial letters exhorted the inhabitants to use their utmost endeavours for the defence of their country against the Picts and Scots.

But, weakened by internal dissension and division, and enervated by the long disuse of arms, they became the prey of their old enemies, who ravaged the country from north to south. More than once they sought the assistance of the Roman commanders in Gaul. The last general who came at their petition not only drove back the Picts and Scots, and repaired the wall of Hadrian, but left behind a large supply of arms and military stores for the Britons to use in their self-defence; and the Roman eagle finally disappeared from Britain 473 years after it was first unfurled on the island.

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