Home U.K Archaeology breakthrough: Ancient holy relic 'key to unlocking' early Christian Britain

Archaeology breakthrough: Ancient holy relic 'key to unlocking' early Christian Britain


The Roman Empire began its conquest of Britain almost 2,000 years ago. The native Celts could never have known their lands were about to get pulled from underneath their feet. Slowly, over centuries, the Empire’s soldiers and officials trickled onto the island and gained control over much of the country.

They would stay for 400 years.

While little remains of the Romans, many of their structures are scattered up and down the country.

Vindolanda is one of the sites that has survived the ages, located in Hexham, Northumberland, believed to have been built by the first Cohort of Tungrians who landed in Britain around 85 AD, and served as an auxiliary fort.

While scores of Roman relics have turned up in and around the site, its post-Roman history has especially interested researchers.

Last year, a stunning discovery was made that, according to History Hit’s documentary, ‘Vindolanda: Jewel of the North’, “rivals even the Roman writing tablets” that showed direct communication between officials thousands of years ago.

For at least 300 to 400 years after the Romans left people lived at Vindolanda, it later morphing into a Christian community with the religion becoming the focus of activity.

Churches and homes were built, and the inhabitants left behind one of Christian Britain’s most significant symbols: a led chalice covered in religious symbolism.

Dr Andrew Birley, Vindolana’s director of excavations, told the documentary: “The combination of those symbols is astounding.

“We have ships, fish, a little Holy Ghost, Chi Rhos, crosses, wheat or corn, angels, a little smiling priestly figure which could represent Psalm 21.

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There is some debate about how the piece would have been used.

When Christian communities and how they practice their faith are studied, most examples come from the Levante or other parts of the Roman Empire.

The north of Britain is absent of a Christian narrative seen across the continent and Middle East.

Dr Birley said: “This chalice, then, might help us understand that a little bit more.”

The research is still in its early days.

But the team believes it could prove to be the vital as historians learn more about the period of Britain formerly described as the “dark age”.

Dr Birley added: “As it continues in the next couple of months and year or so, we really do hope that this is going to be the key to unlock a lot more about that period of history, what used to be referred to as dark the Britain not just for Vindolanda but for right across the north of England.”

Ground research suggests that the church was once big enough to accommodate around 60 parishioners.

The structure somehow collapsed in on itself.

Its symbols have yet to be deciphered.

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