Powys Digital History Project

Religion in Wales
Early Christianity

Christianity in the Roman province
The first Christian communities in Wales were in the towns of the Roman province. Christianity was at first one of a number of Eastern cults which had enjoyed mixed fortunes in the urban centres of the empire, but with the conversion of the Emperor Constantine it became a state religion and by 314 British bishops were attending councils on the continent. By the withdrawal of the Roman administration in the early fifth century it is likely that Christianity had become the dominant religion throughout the province. It is doubtful, however, that the church had any real presence among the three old counties of Powys at this time as the area lay mainly under military control and outside the romanized tribal administrations of the province of Britannia. Romano-British Christianity may have survived the collapse of the province to the East of Breconshire in the area of Ergyng centred on the Roman mining town of Ariconium near Ross-on-Wye. This region was to be the cradle of the Western church which was to spread outward throughout Wales to Cornwall, Ireland and Brittany.

memorial stone
The post-Roman centuries
This post-Roman period has often been referred to as The Age of Saints and a case has been made for an early Welsh church unique in character. Unfortunately there is little evidence for a Celtic church with its own structures and practices. The first great Welsh saint, Dyfrig appears to have been a bishop of Ergyng living and working in an essentially Roman context. The Llandaff Charters record over 50 religious foundations in South East Wales during the early post-Roman centuries, the vast majority in Romanized Gwent and Ergyng. There is no such written evidence for Mid-Wales.

The place-name element llan - originally meaning an enclosure - is often taken as evidence of an unrecorded religious site but not all of these refer to churches. Llandeilo Rwnws and Llandeilo Pentwyn, for example, are secular properties belonging to Teilo’s community at Llandeilo Fawr. Early Christian inscribed stones in Mid-Wales (especially Breconshire) may be evidence of some form of religious activity and features of the enclosures or buildings at Meifod, Llanmerewig, Llandinam and Presteigne would seem to indicate a foundation in the post-Roman centuries and there may have been a short-lived bishopric centred at Glasbury or Llangynidr.

There are 3 pages on early Christianity in Wales. Use the box links below to view the other pages.