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E02973: Gildas, in his treatise On the Destruction of Britain, names *Albanus/Alban (martyr of Verulamium, Britain, S01364), and *Aaron and Julius (martyrs of Britain, S01361), as martyrs who suffered in Britain, and states that Britons were unable to visit the tombs of the martyrs or the places of their martyrdom because of the Anglo-Saxon occupation. Written in Latin in Britain, c. 480/c. 550.

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posted on 12.06.2017, 00:00 by dlambert
Gildas, On the Destruction of Britain 10

After describing the suffering of the church in the time of persecution under the emperor Diocletian, Gildas names those he believes were martyred in Britain in those years.

Magnificavit igitur misericordiam suam nobiscum deus volens omnes homines salvos fieri et vocans non minus peccatores quam eos qui se putant iustos. Qui gratuito munere, supra dicto ut conicimus persecutionis tempore, ne penitus crassa atrae noctis caligine Britannia obfuscaretur, clarissimos lampades sanctorum martyrum nobis accendit, quorum nunc corporum sepulturae et passionum loca, si non lugubri divortio barbarorum quam plurima ob scelera nostra civibus adimerentur, non minimum intuentium mentibus ardorem divinae caritatis incuterent: sanctum Albanum Verolamiensem, Aaron et Iulium Legionum urbis cives ceterosque utriusque sexus diversis in locis summa magnanimitate in acie Christi perstantes dico.

'God therefore increased his pity for us; for he wishes all men to be saved and calls sinners no less than those who think themselves just. As a free gift to us, in the time (as I conjecture) of this same persecution, he acted to save Britain from being plunged deep in the thick darkness of black night; for he lit for us the lamps of holy martyrs. Their graves and the places where they suffered would now have the greatest effect in instilling the blaze of divine charity in the minds of the beholders, were it not that our citizens, on account of our sins, have been deprived of many of them by the unhappy partition with the barbarians. I refer to St Alban of Verulamium, Aaron and Julius, citizens of the city of the legions, and the others of both sexes who, in different places, displayed the highest spirit in the battle-line of Christ.'

Text and translation: Winterbottom 1978; translation slightly adapted.

History

Evidence ID

E02973

Saint Name

Alban, martyr of Verulamium (Britain) : S01364 Aaron and Julius, martyrs of Britain : S01361

Saint Name in Source

Albanus Aaron, Iulius

Type of Evidence

Literary - Theological works

Language

Latin

Evidence not before

480

Evidence not after

560

Activity not before

200

Activity not after

570

Place of Evidence - Region

Britain and Ireland

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

St Albans St Albans Verulamium

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - unspecified

Source

Gildas wrote the tract known as On the Destruction of Britain (De excidio Britanniae - there are several variants of the title) at an unknown location in Britain, some generations after the end of Roman rule and the subsequent invasion by the Anglo-Saxons. His work was intended to admonish contemporary Britons, and especially the church, that the conquests of the Anglo-Saxons were a punishment for their sins. On the Destruction of Britain contains no information that allows it to be dated precisely, and modern estimates of its date of composition vary considerably, from as early as the 480s to as late as the 550s, though the most common opinion places it in the period around 540. For a brief account of what is known about Gildas, see Kerlouégan 2004.

Discussion

Gildas begins On the Destruction of Britain with an account of British history up to his own time. It is in the course of this historical survey that he refers to the persecution of the church in the times before Constantine. After a passage describing the suffering which took place throughout the Christian world during the persecution launched by the emperor Diocletian (derived from Rufinus' Latin translation of Eusebius), Gildas names three individuals he believed were martyred in Britain during the persecution: Alban from Verulamium (St Albans), and Aaron and Julius, described as 'citizens of the city of the legions' (almost certainly Caerleon: see Seaman 2015), as well as unnamed 'others of both sexes'. Gildas states explicitly that his attribution of these martyrdoms to the Great Persecution is a conjecture: he evidently did not know when they occurred, and therefore attributed them to the best known period of persecution. There is no reliable evidence as to when the martyrdoms of Alban and of Aaron and Julius did occur. The prominence and popularity of the martyr cults mentioned by Gildas were very different. The existence of the cult of Alban is firmly attested by the time of the visit to Britain by *Germanus of Auxerre in 429 (E05846), and a written account of his martyrdom (E07536) was in circulation by Gildas' time and is summarised by him in the next chapter of On the Destruction of Britain (E02974). Aaron and Julius, by contrast, are unknown except for this reference by Gildas. Gildas states that at the time he wrote most of the graves of the martyrs and the sites of their martyrdoms were inaccessible to the Britons because of the lugubri divortio barbarorum, a phrase translated by Michael Winterbottom as 'the unhappy partition with the barbarians', and by Michael Garcia as 'the grievous divorce from the barbarians' (Garcia 2013). Gildas' language has usually been taken as indicating that these places were in areas that had been conquered by the Anglo-Saxons (this was certainly not the case with Caerleon, but Gildas says that he is not referring to all martyr sites). It has recently been argued by Garcia that Gildas, who believed that the Saxons had originally been invited to Britain to fight as mercenaries and had then revolted (On the Destruction of Britain 23-24), intended the phrase to denote not a geographical partition, but the original breakdown in relations between Britons and Saxons. In either case, it is clear that he believed that conflict with the Saxons had made it impossible for Britons to participate in martyr cult at traditional sites, whatever the precise mechanism by which this situation came about.

Bibliography

Edition and translation: Winterbottom, M., Gildas, The Ruin of Britain and Other Works (Chichester: Phillimore, 1978). Further reading: Garcia, M., "Gildas and the 'Grievous Divorce from the Barbarians'," Early Medieval Europe 21:3 (2013), 243-253. Kerlouégan, F., "Gildas [St Gildas] (fl. 6th-7th cent.)," in: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). Online edition (http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/10718); accessed 22/08/2017. Knight, J.K., "Britain's Other Martyrs: Julius, Aaron and Alban at Caerleon," in: M. Henig and P. Lindley (eds.), Alban and St Albans: Roman and Medieval Architecture, Art and Archaeology (Leeds, 2001), 38-44. Seaman, A., "Julius and Aaron 'Martyrs of Caerleon': In Search of Wales' First Christians," Archaeologia Cambrensis 164 (2015), 201-19.

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Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

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