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Archaeology and Early History

THE ARRIVAL OF CHRISTIANITY IN ROMAN BRITAIN

Christianity owes its birth to the impact of the historically recorded crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the obscure Roman province of Palestine in c. A.D. 33. Christianity spread through the Mediterranean world and would have reached Britain by the third century at the very latest.

At first Christianity would have seemed little more than just another cult. The Roman authorities were suspicious of Christianity because followers of Jesus Christ refused to take an oath of loyalty to the Roman emperor. For this reason the early Christians were regarded as dangerous enemies of the Empire. The persecution of Christians ceased in A.D. 313 when the emperor Constantine converted to Christianity.

In the early days Christianity found most of its followers in the towns and cities of the Roman Empire, but it was not long before wealthy landowners were establishing private house churches on the their country estates. Christianity became the official state religion of the Roman Empire in the early fourth century A.D. As the century progressed Christianity spread very quickly. Despite official recognition there was no mass conversion to Christianity; worship of the pagan gods and goddesses was not even formally banned until late in the fourth century.

At first, groups of Christian believers would have met in ordinary houses for worship. Purpose-built structures (churches) designed for public worship would not have existed until the fourth century.

 

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CHRISTIANITY IN THE DARENT VALLEY

Christianity seems to have penetrated the Darent Valley in the late fourth century A.D. with the establishment of a house church at Lullingstone villa. A pagan nymphaeum at the villa was replaced by a suite of rooms adorned with Christian wall paintings and symbols.

The main room of this private house church at Lullingstone was decorated with frescoes featuring the Christian Chi Rho symbol (the first two letters of the Greek word for ‘Christ’), alpha and omega symbols, and figures with their arms outstretched in the position used by early Christians to pray. Between the columns in this room were spaces for six painted figures. A substantial part of one of the paintings survives. It featured a young man with dark eyes and thick red curly hair cut short, with his hands outstretched in an attitude of prayer. Unfortunately, the Christian chapel at Lullingstone was destroyed by fire early in the fifth century. Decorated plaster from the walls fell into the room below.

Next topic: Saxon religion

 

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