How Dark Age Britain was a land of saints



undreds of individuals in Dark Age Celtic Britain have been designated as saints after their deaths, in line with new archaeological analysis.

Legends, place names and different traditions have lengthy hinted at that chance – however now exceptional new archaeological analysis is, for the primary time, suggesting that it was true.

It additionally suggests that almost all of these saints have been members of aristocratic elites, certainly it’s conceivable that as much as 3-4 per cent of Britain’s Dark Age Celtic aristocratic class have been awarded saintly standing.

The analysis reveals the extraordinary significance of what grew to become a widespread British Celtic ‘cult of sainthood’. The investigation concerned an evaluation of a whole bunch of inscriptions, some of which have been written in a mysterious cipher-like Dark Age script.

The phenomenon of widespread sainthood was used to consolidate Christianity among the many normal inhabitants – but additionally probably as a approach of growing reverence for the aristocratic elites.

The analysis exhibits that the driving pressure behind this Dark Age cult of saints seems to have been the elevated quantity of small monastic communities and bigger monasteries which established themselves in fifth and sixth century western and northern Britain.

It appears that the aristocratic and ruling elites not solely established new monasteries and convents, but additionally populated them with some of their little children.

The monasteries grew to become the ‘upper class at prayer’ – and saintly standing helped popularise each Christianity and its noble and royal patrons.

Saints have been additionally helpful in very sensible phrases too – as a result of  they have been nearly actually thought to be with the ability to straight intercede with God to assist extraordinary individuals clear up financial, well being or household issues.

The new analysis reveals how, most likely with the intention to serve the inhabitants’s intercession wants, scores of ‘saint consultation’ monuments have been established by the aspect of roads and in different simply seen places.

New archaeological analysis has elevated the quantity of Dark Age Celtic possible saints in Britain by nearly 30%. Most of the beforehand recognized Celtic saints had solely been attested by medieval church dedications – like this distant parish church (within the Welsh village of Partrishow), as soon as devoted to St Issui, a Dark Age Martyr.


Archaeologist Professor Ken Dark of the University of Reading has simply accomplished a research of 240 inscribed Dark Age stone monuments.

Until now, historians had thought that these inscribed stones have been extraordinary grave markers for warrior heroes or different outstanding primarily secular people, however the brand new research reveals that they have been nearly actually public monuments commemorating native saints (principally revered monks or monks) and that they’d most likely been erected instantly after every particular person had died.

Professor Dark’s investigation correlated inscriptions from 150 stone monuments in Wales, 20 in southern Scotland (and round Hadrian’s Wall), 40 in Cornwall and 30 from elsewhere in western England.

The survey revealed that some of the people had been given titles (suggesting saintly standing) indicating that they have been both martyrs or non secular sages or holy males or pious devotees of well-known continental saints – and even that their mortal stays have been thought of to be sacred relics.

At least three had royal standing – however the majority have been nearly actually monks or different sorts of cleric. Indeed, in some instances, their ecclesiastical standing was talked about of their inscriptions.

The analysis has elevated the quantity of possible Celtic saints by nearly 30 per cent.

However, the overwhelming majority of the beforehand recorded 860 Dark Age Celtic saints (principally first attested some 5 centuries later) have been solely recognized from place names, legends, and medieval church dedications.

This survey is the primary time that onerous historic proof for the phenomenon (i.e. the inscriptions) has been collated.

The analysis additionally reveals that in Dark Age Britain even kids could possibly be thought to be saints.

Around 16 of the 240 newly recognized possible saints have been girls – and its seemingly that some have been the wives of senior ecclesiastical figures. In Dark Age British Celtic Christianity, monks (together with bishops) and presumably monks have been allowed to marry.

The sheer quantity of native saints and the flexibility of monks to marry have been two main phenomena which differentiated Celtic British Christianity from that practised on the continent.

Dark Age saints appear to had a liking for distant islands. According to Welsh legend the island of Bardsey (pictured right here) was residence to twenty,000 saints, over a number of centuries – however historians suspect that’s a huge exaggeration! Nevertheless, it was nearly actually inhabited by a substantial quantity of Celtic holy males.

(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The analysis has additionally proven the distribution of the 240 surviving monuments to possible native Celtic saints – and has revealed particular clusters in  west Cornwall, varied elements of Wales (particularly Pembrokeshire, the Swansea area, Anglesey, Snowdonia, the Brecon space) – and the island of Lundy within the Bristol Channel. Significantly, most of the clusters correlate with the geographical distribution of many of the 860 beforehand recognized saints who have been primarily solely recognized from church-dedications and place-names, however have been in any other case usually not traditionally or archaeologically attested.

“By studying the inscribed stones in great detail, it has now been possible to reach radical new conclusions as to who the commemorated individuals were,” stated Professor Dark, who has simply revealed his new analysis within the Journal of Ecclesiastical History.

Although most of the inscriptions have been written in Latin, nearly 20 p.c have been inscribed in a mysterious now-long-forgotten Irish-originating Celtic script known as Ogham.

Ogham was one of essentially the most uncommon and enigmatic scripts within the historical past of writing. Its letters largely consisted of otherwise positioned teams of horizontal strains. The phonetic worth of every letter depended solely on the place (and what number of) in any other case equivalent horizontal strains have been positioned relative to a single lengthy vertical edge or different characteristic on a stone or different object. For occasion, one horizontal line to the correct of the vertical ‘axis’ represented a ‘B’, whereas three horizontal strains to the left of the vertical axis represented a ‘T’. Four horizontal strains (on either side of the vertical) signified an ‘E’ – and so forth. In essence, it was comparable in idea to a a lot later communications system, semaphore – however inscribed on stone quite than transmitted with flag alerts.

It was a distinctive kind of writing – and was maybe initially developed for carving transient inscriptions on wooden (as a result of inscriptions on wooden are extra simply learn if inscribed in straight strains throughout the grain). On stone, straight-line inscriptions are additionally a lot simpler to carve than curved or advanced ones.

It’s seemingly that this exceptional approach of writing was first developed within the south of Ireland within the late 4th or early fifth century A.D. –  and continued in use (for stone inscriptions) till the seventh century (though it was used sometimes and intermittently in Ireland within the margins of some manuscripts up till the Seventeenth-century).




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