After the Flood, by Bill Cooper


Appendix 13


Britain's First Christian


'The wars and persecutions which followed the first preaching of the gospel in Britain have destroyed all certain records of Christianity in these early times.' (Churton, E. The Early English Church. London. 1841. p. 3)

The above comment, made over 150 years ago, is typical of the mistaken assumption under which scholars have laboured for centuries. The records of this island's earliest Church, far from having been destroyed or lost, are in fact to be found in the Welsh documents known as the Triads. The fact that no notice has been taken of them down the centuries is due entirely to the prejudice that has been lain upon anything of Welsh origin since the Augustine-inspired massacre of the Welsh clergy at Bangor in the early 7th century. To read some books these days, one could easily be misled into thinking that Augustine himself was practically the first Christian to land on these shores, the 'Lucius' mission to Rome of the late 2nd century and the Celtic Church in general receiving minimal notice.

Modern scholarship, when dealing with the earliest appearances of the Christian faith in Britain, will usually set up straw-men, personified in the late Saxon-cum-Norman legends of Joseph of Arimathea and of St Paul's allegedly landing here, only to knock them down again with the erroneous observation that nothing can be certainly known before Augustine's day. Otherwise, all is legend and insubstantial myth. But is it? As is often the case, the original records carry a somewhat different story. Flinders Petrie tells us about it:

'The Lucius question next arises. To judge of this we must look at the whole of the statements about the rise of the British Church. We must carefully keep to the authorities, as confusion has arisen by modern authors making arbitrary identifications of the east British or London family of Casswallon with the west British or Silurian family of Caradog. The actual statements of the triads name two generations before Caradog (Caratacus) and three after him - Llyr, Bran, Caradog, Cyllin, Coel, Lleirwg. From triads 18 and 35, Bran was seven years a hostage in Rome for his son Caradog - implying that Caradog was sent back to rule in Britain. The seven years, therefore, would be from AD 51 to 58. From Rome he "brought the faith of Christ to the Cambrians". Looking at the Epistle to the Romans, written AD 58, the obvious strength of Christianity then, its hold in Caesar's household, where Bran was a hostage, and its political position under Nero, there is nothing in the least improbable in a British hostage in Rome being among converts by AD 58. In triad 62, Lleirwg, the great-grandson of Caradog, "first gave lands and the privilege of the country (i.e. position of native free-men) to those who first dedicated themselves to the faith of Christ", and he founded the first archbishopric, that of Llandav. This would be about AD 130 to 160. Three generations for such a spread of influence from one of the royal family is certainly not too short a time.

Next comes the account in Tysilio [i.e. Jesus College MS LXI] and the Liber Pontificalis, that Lies (Lucius) sent to Eleutherius, "soon after his entrance upon the pontificate", or about AD 180, for missioners from Rome. If the west British rulers had already started official Christianity a generation or two earlier, there is nothing unlikely in this movement. That Christianity was firmly established in even remote parts of Britain at the close of the second century is shown by Tertullian stating that "the Britons in parts inaccessible to the Romans, Christ has truly subdued". Collateral with this is the great importance of the Gallic Church under Irenaeus AD 180. The later stage, of the British bishops in AD 314 attending the Council of Aries, brings the development into the full course of ecclesiastical history. In this growth thus recorded there is not a single stage that is historically inconsistent or improbable. Further agreeing with this is the genealogy of Vortigern in Nennius (49), where, amid purely British names, Paul occurs at about AD 175.'


1. Adv. IUD., p. 189, edit. 1664.

Flinders Petrie made just one mistake here in that he misinterpreted the genealogy of Vortigern as being given in descending order in the original Latin of Nennius, when in fact it is given in ascending order. In other words, Paul did not live before Vortigern (who flourished ca AD 450) but after him, probably around the year AD 600:

The mistake is surprising, for Nennius specifically states that this genealogy is 'traced backwards to the beginning' (Haec est genealogia illius quae ad initium retro recurrit), i.e. in ascending order, rather than forwards to the end in descending order. But in everything else, Flinders Petrie is perfectly correct. It is unequivocally stated in the early records that the man who first brought the Christian faith to these shores was none other than Bran, the father of Caratacus (Caradog) who, with his family, was taken to Rome in chains and paraded before the Senate by the Emperor Claudius with the view to their immediate and summary execution. Caratacus (or, more usually, Caractacus), however, gave his famous speech of defiance that earned him instead the Senate's applause, a state pension and apartments in the Imperial Palace. And here conventional history loses sight of him. But the triads add to our knowledge. They tell us that, in perfect accord with previous Roman practice, Caratacus was allowed home to rule as a puppet king, but his family were kept behind as surety for his good behaviour. Whilst detained for seven years in Caesar's household, his father Bran was converted to Christ, and when allowed to return to Britain in AD 58, the very year of Paul's epistle to the Romans, he brought the Christian faith with him. It is difficult to imagine a more straightforward, uncomplicated and entirely feasible account, and we can only wonder why it has been ignored all these years.

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