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
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 Teilos 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.