Sunday, December 10, 2006

More Evidence of Christianity in Ancient England


St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London

New archeological discoveries show Christianity may have a longer history than most have believed, and St. Martin-in-the-Fields may be the oldest standing church in London:

Archaeologists excavating near the edge of Trafalgar Square in London have found evidence of early Christianity in England, suggesting the area has a much older religious significance than was originally believed.

A team from the Museum of London has discovered a hoard of what is almost certainly royal treasure, buried in a mysterious, empty human grave laid out in the traditional Christian manner - east to west.

"Our excavations demonstrate the position as a significant and important place at an earlier date than we thought," said Alison Telfer, the senior archaeologist in charge of the dig...

Located immediately next to one of the capital's most famous churches - St Martin-in-the-Fields - immediately to the north of Trafalgar Square, the empty grave appears to form part of a previously unknown ancient cemetery, dating back more than one and a half millennia. Archaeologists have also discovered 24 other graves on the site, all still holding the remains of their occupants....

The empty grave, judging by its treasure, and several of the other early graves in the cemetery are estimated to date from the time that Bertha was Queen of Kent - 590 to 610 [and the article says probably belonged to her daughter or niece]...

Bertha was a devotee of the cult of St Martin. Her personal church in Canterbury, presented to her in about 590 by her then pagan husband, Aethelberht, was dedicated to the saint - probably at her behest. And her husband was, after about 597, very keen on ecclesiastical development in London, which was technically part of the kingdom of Essex but in reality under Kentish overall control...

The excavations have also revealed a second mystery. At least one of the other graves was pre-Anglo-Saxon and dates from the very late Roman or immediate post-Roman period. The burial, in a stone sarcophagus, was also Christian - like virtually all the others - but was 200 years older. (Emphasis added.)

This raises the possibility that the site had Christian links long before the conversion of Anglo-Saxon England, possibly as the location of a small church or mortuary chapel built there in the very late Roman period, immediately before the Anglo-Saxon pagan conquest. This would mean St Martin-in-the-Fields is London's oldest surviving ecclesiastical site, predating St Paul's by some two centuries.

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