- Dec 6, 2013Celtic and Old English Saints 3 December
* St. Lucius of Britain
* St. Ethernan of Scotland
* St. Birinus of Wessex
St. Lucius (Lleuwg, Lud), King
2nd century king or chieftain in the British Isles. The "Liber
Pontificalis," c. 530 or later, states that a British king called Lucius
wrote to Pope Eleutherius (c. 180), asking him in effect to send. Bede
says that evangelists were sent, and had great success in the south and
west of Britain and Wales. Lucius founded the dioceses of London and
Llandaff. Lucius later became a missionary himself, taking the Gospel to
the Grissons in what is modern Switzerland.
Many modern scholars regard Lucius as inadvertent pious fiction. We know
that King Lucius of Edessa wrote to Pope Eleuterus to ask for
missionaries to the Britium region near Mesopotamia. Combined with the
lack of popular devotion to Lucius in Britain, and no mention in
writings before the 6th century leads to the belief that some old
hand-written documents were misread, and were seen as an explanation for
some early missionary efforts in England and Wales.
Saint Lucius is generally depicted as a king with three sceptres tipped
with crosses. Occasionally he is shown (1) ploughing with a bear and
ox; (2) with an idol falling from a broken column; or (3) in armour with
a pilgrim's staff. Venerated in Grisons, Switzerland (Roeder).
SAINT LUCIUS, KING IN BRITAIN
St. Lucius was descended from Bran the Blessed, of whom The Welsh Triads
say: "There came with Bran the Blessed from Rome to Britain Arwystli Hen
(the old man), Ilid, Cyndaw, men of Israel; Maw, or Manaw, son of Arwystli
hen." Arwytsli has been very tentatively identified with St. Aristobulus,
the first Bishop of Britain, who, according to the Greek Menaion for March
15, "was chosen by St. Paul to be the missionary bishop of the land of
Britain, inhabited by a very fierce and warlike race. By them he was often
scourged, and repeatedly dragged as a criminal through their towns, yet he
converted many of them to Christianity. He was martyred there after he had
built churches and ordained priests and deacons for the island."
Bran the Blessed is called by the Triads, "the first to bring the Faith of
Christ to the Welsh from Rome, where he had been seven years as a hostage
for his son Caradog". Caradoc, or Caractacus, was the leader of the heroic
resistance of the Britons against the Roman invaders which was so vividly
described by the Roman historian Tacitus. Caractacus was betrayed into the
Romans' hands. But he defended himself with great dignity in the Roman
senate, and Tacitus wrote: "Rome trembled when it saw the Briton, though in
The exiled family of Bran the Blessed and his son Caractacus formed the
nucleus of the first Gentile Christian community in Rome. Caractacus'
daughter Gladys married a Roman senator and took the name Claudia after the
Emperor Claudius, and it is under this name that the poet Martial alluded
to her in his eleventh epigram:
Our Claudia, sprung, we know, from blue-eyed Britons.
Yet, behold, she vies in grace with all that Greece or Rome can show.
Claudia was the mother of several children, including the holy Martyrs
Praxedes and Pudentiana.
The eldest son of Caractacus, Cyllinus, went back to his native land. He is
mentioned in the family records of Jestyn ap Gwrgant, Prince of Glamorgan
in the eleventh century: "Cyllin ab Caradoc, a wise and just king. In his
days many of the Welsh embraced the Faith in Christ through the teaching of
the saints of Cor-Eurgain, and many godly men from the countries of Greece
and Rome were in Wales."
St. Lucius (in Welsh: "Lleuver Mawr", "The Great Light") was the grandson
of King Cyllinus. In the year 156 he sent a letter to Pope Eleutherius in
Rome asking to be made a Christian. (Evidently apostolic succession had
died out in Britain.) In accordance with his request, he was baptized by a
deacon of the Roman Church by the name of Timothy. Moreover, the Pope sent
two missionaries by the names of Fagan and Dyfan, who settled with twelve
disciples in Glastonbury. Lucius himself is said to have built the original
church dedicated to the Archangel Michael on Glastonbury Tor, and is
with having founded an archbishopric in Llandaff in Wales, having been the
first to give "lands and the privilege of the country to those who first
dedicated themselves to the faith in Christ." The Churches of Gloucester
and London (Cornhill) also claim Lucius as their founder. It is said that
the second Bishop of London was Elfan, one of the messengers sent by Lucius
According to Notker's Martyrology (894), St. Lucius later "abandoned the
world, crossed the sea and converted many to Christ in Switzerland through
his preaching and miracles". However, this is doubted by the Swiss scholar
C. Simonett, who believes that the British King Lucius has been confused
with a Lucius from Chur in Switzerland, where the "Brittoni", a Celtic
tribe, were living, and who worked as a missionary against the Arians from
about 550 to 600.
St. Lucius died on December 3, 201.
(Sources: Bede, Ecclesiastical History, I, 4; William of Malmesbury, De
Antiquitate Ecclesiae Glastoniensis, 2; The Triads of Britain, 35,
translated by W. Probert, London: Wildwood House, 1977; Notker,
Martyrology; H.M. Porter, The Celtic Church in Somerset, Bath: Morgan
Books, pp. 125-127; C. Simonett, Geschicte der Storolz Chur, 1. Teil, Chur:
Calven-Verlag, 1976; Personal Communication, September 19, 1979)
St. Ethernan of Scotland, Bishop
Born in Scotland; dates unknown. The Scottish Saint Ethernan studied in
Ireland, and was consecrated bishop there. He then went back to
Scotland to evangelize (Benedictines).
St. Berin, the Apostle of Wessex
Frankish priest, born c.600. Died 3 December 650 at Dorchester.
Birinus was probably a Frank, consecrated a bishop by Archbishop
Asterius in Genoa. In 634, he was sent by Pope Honorius I to convert the
pagan people of Mercia. He landed at Portchester (Hampshire) and moved
up through the Christian Celts of Hampshire to Silchester (Hampshire).
Before he reached Mercia though, he encountered the pagan Saxons of the
Thames Valley. Finding them greatly in need of Christian teaching, he
decided to stay and was directed to the King's estate on the Berkshire
Downs, probably at Cholsey (Berkshire). Here he met King Cynegils of
Wessex who chose Churn Knob (Blewbury, Berkshire) as the site for the
saint's first sermon. He must have thought this ancient pagan place to
be a fine spot to intimidate the newcomer. However, Birinus was
unperturbed and even managed to persuade the King of the merits of
Christianity. Cynegils allowed Birinus to preach throughout his Kingdom,
but it took a while before he himself was totally converted.
The King was, at the time, desperately trying to finalise an alliance
with the powerful King Oswald of Northumbria. Together he hoped they
could defeat the hated Mercians. Cynegils arranged negotiations at his
palace in Easthampstead (Berkshire), and the King of Northumbria
travelled down to meet him. On reaching Finchampstead (Berkshire), the
King became thirsty and prayed for water. The Holy Dozell's (or
St.Oswald's) Well instantaneously sprang up and flowed fresh water. At
the Royal talks, the only sticking point was that Oswald was a Christian
and would not ally himself to any pagan. So the King of Wessex decided
it was time to be baptised into this new church. Oswald agreed the
alliance could then be cemented by the marriage of his daughter and the
southern King. Birinus was sent for and, at the nearby Fountain Garth
(Bracknell, Berkshire), Cynegils was baptised immediately.
The bishop was given the old Roman town of Dorcic (Dorchester-on-Thames,
Oxfordshire) in which to build himself a cathedral, and the Royal party
travelled north to examine the site. On the way many of the Royal
courtiers also expressed a desire to become Christian, so at the
Brightwell (Berskhire) crossing of the Thames near Dorchester, Birinus
arranged for a large proportion of his Court to be baptised en mass. The
King's son, Cwichelm, resisted at first, but he was eventually converted
to Christianity the following year. King Cynegils died in 643 and, about
five years later, the new King, Cenwalh, invited Birinus to establish an
important minster at Winchester. Other churches in Wessex have a lesser
claim to a Birinian foundation: St. Mary's, Reading (Berkshire); St.
Helen's, Abingdon (Berkshire) and the parish church of Taplow
(Buckinghamshire), where the saint is said to have bapised the local
Saxons in Bapsey Pond. These were the beginnings of the See of Wessex.
Birinus became its first Bishop and remained so until his death in 649.
His shrine at Dorchester became a great place of pilgrimage, but
controversy later arose when the Bishop moved his seat to Winchester and
claimed to have taken the body of Birinus with him. Winchester Cathedral
still has his relics.
Birinus had great devotion for the Body of Our Lord, as is shown in the
account of his walking on the sea to procure the corporal given him by
Pope Honorius, wherein he ever carried the Blessed Eucharist. Many
miracles took place at the discovery of Birinus's relics, and Huntingdon
among others speaks of "the great miracles of Birin". At present, there
is a growing devotion to him in the Established Church, due probably to
the connection of the British royal family with Cedric, a side branch of
whose stock was Cynegils.
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