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Part III Continued-Arthurian Britain
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Part V - Medieval Britain

Continuation of The Arthurian Britain

Another collection of stories collected around 830 that relate the events of the age is the Historia Brittonum (History of the Britons) ascribed to Nennius. Arthur is also mentioned, as is Brutus, described as the ancestor of the Welsh. Perhaps the most authentic of the early Arthurian references is the entry for 537 in the Annales that briefly refers to the Battle of Camlan in which Arthur and Medrawd were killed. Prose accounts of the enigmatic British leader are entirely tales of fancy. It was not until the highly imaginative works of Geoffrey of Monmouth (1090-1155) that the Arthurian romances provided the basis for a whole new and impressive tradition of European literature.

It is the coming of Christianity, however, that overshadows the literary achievements of the age. In most of lowland Britain, Latin had become the language of administration and education, especially since Celtic writing was virtually unknown. Latin was also the language of the Church in Rome. The old Celtic gods had given way to the new ones such as Mithras introduced by the Roman mercenaries; they were again replaced when missionaries from Gaul introduced Christianity to the islands. By 3l4, an organized Christian Church seems to have been established in most of Britain, for in that year British bishops were summoned to the Council of Arles. By the end of the fourth century, a diocesan structure had been set up, many districts having come under the pastoral care of a bishop.

In the meantime, however, missionaries of the Gospel had been active in the south and east of the land that later became known as Scotland (It was not until the late tenth Century that the name Scotia ceased to be applied to Ireland and become transferred to southwestern Scotland) The first of these was Ninian who probably built his first church (Candida Casa: White House ) at Whithorn in Galloway, ministering from there as a traveling bishop and being buried there after his death in 397 A.D. For many centuries his tomb remained a place of pilgrimage, including visits from kings and queens of Scotland.

It was during the time of the Saxon invasions, in that relatively unscathed western peninsular that later took the name Wales, that the first monasteries were established (the words Wales and Welsh were used by the Germanic invaders to refer to Romanized Britons). They spread rapidly to Ireland from where missionaries returned to those parts of Britain that were not under the Roman Bishops' jurisdiction, mainly the Northwest.. Though preceded by St Oran, who established churches in Iona, Mull and Tiree, Columba was the most important of these missionaries, later becoming a popular saint in the history of the Christian Church, but even he built the nave of his first monastery facing west and not east. For his efforts at reforming the Church, he was excommunicated by Rome. His banishment from Ireland became Scotland's gain.

The island of Iona is just off the western coast of Argyll, in present-day Scotland. It is been called the Isle of Dreams or Isle of Druids. It was here that Columba (Columcille '"Dove of the Church" ) with his small band of Irish monks landed in 563 A.D. to spread the faith, and it was here that the missionary saint inaugurated Aidan as king of the new territory of Dalriata (previously settled by men from Columba's own Ulster). Iona was quickly to become the ecclesiastical head of the Celtic Church in the whole of Britain as well as a major political center. After the monastic settlement at Iona gave sanctuary to the exiled Oswald early in the seventh century, the king invited the monks to come to his restored kingdom of Northumbria. It was thus that Aidan, with his twelve disciples, came to Lindisfarne, destined with Iona to become one of the great cultural centers of the early Christian world.

In 574, Columba is believed to have returned to Ireland to plead the cause of the bards, about to be expelled as trouble-makers. According to legend, he sensibly argued that their expulsion would deprive the country of an irreplaceable wealth of folklore and antiquity. He also refused to chop down the ancient, sacred oak trees that symbolized the old druidic religion. Although the bards were allowed to remain, they were forced to give up their special privileges as priests of the old religion ( Some modern writers, such as Robert Graves have seen the old traditions underlying much Celtic literature throughout the long. long years since the 6th century).

In this period, the 5th and 6th Centuries, numerous Celtic saints were adopted by the rapidly expanding Church. At the Synod of Whitby in 664, however, the Celtic Church, with its own ideas about the consecration of its Bishops, tonsure of its monks, dates for the celebration of Easter and other differences with Rome, was more or less forced by majority opinion of the British bishops to accept the rule of St.Peter, introduced by Augustine, rather than of St.Columba. From this date on, we can no longer speak of a Celtic Church as distinct from that of Rome. By the end of the seventh century we can also begin to speak of an Anglo-Saxon political entity in the island of Britain, and the formation and growth of various English kingdoms.


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