A History of Christian Britain

1st - 6th Centuries AD

 

Between the 1st and 6th centuries, we have only the briefest mentions of our forefathers in the Faith. The first Christians in Britain were, almost certainly, baptised men of the Roman garrisons established after the Emperor Claudius' invasion of Britain in 43AD. These garrisons extended from Richborough to Caernarvon and, 50 years later, from Devon to the northern outposts on Hadrian's Wall. The Roman occupation of Britain lasted as long as the centuries which divide the first Elizabethan age from our own. Those centuries were a Golden Age, as their villas and references to their overseas trade confirm. Many overseas Christians must have had links with the Bristish community, as they traded, married and settled.

 

Writing c. 176 AD, St Iranaeus makes no mention of Britain as one of the west European nations to which Christianity had come. Some 30 years later, the great African scholar Tertullian mentions Britain as a remote outpost of the Faith. Our British Protomartyr, St Alban, is said to have died at Verulamium (St Albans), probaly during the persecution of the Emperors Decius and Valerian (250 -260 AD).

 

The first records of the British Church tell us of 3 Bishops, a Priest and a Deacon at the Council of Arles (314 AD) and at least 3 Bishops at Rimini (359 AD). In the mid-5th century, Germanus, the great Bishop of Auxerre, paid two missionary visits to England. It is certain that both St Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland, and St Illtyd, the great Welsh saint, were his pupils in Auxerre. Then the light went out over Western Europe. The barbarian hordes roamed the Channel and swept into Rome itself (410AD). The links between Imerial Rome and its Bristish Province were severed. But the darkness lifted.

 

St Augustine of Canterbury

6th Century AD

 

We are on firm ground in the 6th century - Augustine's mission to England in 597 AD; the labours of the Celtic Church in Wales, reaching out into Cornwall, Ireland and Brittany; David founding his monastry in remote (St David's); Samson, Bishop of Caldey, later Abbot of Dol in Brittany; and our own patron, St Teilo, Abbot of Llandeilo Fawr. Difficulties appeared. The British Church, particularly in Wales, had its own distictive practices - liturgical and otherwise - the date of Easter; the rite of Baptism; even the Tonsure. The differnces between Rome and England were ironed out by the Council of Whitby in 663AD. The Welsh (a stubborn race!) held out until 768AD.

 

The Catholic Faith in Tenby

15th Century AD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is uncertain exactly when the faith came to Tenby. A study of our Catholic heritage must begin in the 15th century Anglican Church of St Mary the Virgin, whose records go back so much earlier to Churches on the same site. Gerald de Barri (Gerald the Welshman, Giraldus Cambrensis), born in Manobier Castle some 5 miles from Tenby, was the son of William a Norman knight and Nest (Nesta) a Welsh lady of distinguished ancestry (a mixed marriage). He was appointed Rector of this Church in 1223. The aisle of the Rood of Grace, the supposed site of the Chapel of Jesus, the almost unique flight of Altar Steps - built to focus attention on the Tabernacle on the High Altar, and, in the churchyard, the scanty remians of a building which may have housed our Chantry Priests. Outside the town were two monastic foundations, dedicated to St John the Baptist and St Mary Magdalen respectively and, on the Harbourside, an Oratory dedicated to St Julian the Fisherman. Two miles across the water was Caldey's Benedictine House, a Cell of the Abbey of St Dogmael.

 

Founding of St Teilo's Parish

1893 AD

 

The storm of the Reformation broke, destroying Catholic life in Tenby and monastic observance on Caldy Island. But there was a second Spring, although it took three centuries to appear. The present Church of Holyrood and St Teilo dates from 1893, consecrated by Herbert, Cardinal Vaughan of Westminster. It is a story of high endeavour due, under God, to the great Passionist, Fr Placid Wareing. But he built on the foundations of others. The Apostolic Missioners, Fr Peter Lewis, travelled on horseback some 20 miles from haverfordwest in the 1840's, and some 12 miles from Pembroke Dock in 1850's, to celebrate Sunday Mass in Tenby. The venue was a tavern in St Julian Street, now the Buccaneer Hotel.

St Teilo's Church

Fr Dominic O'Neill, another great Passionist, was given to us in the 1870's. He established a Mass Centre in the basement at the rear of Sparta House, Bridge Street, near the Harbour. In October 1888, he founded the Parish in what was then a stable yard. Fr Dominic created anew the Catholic Parish in Tenby, sited in what is now Brychan yard, Upper Frog Street. But it was Fr Placid Wareing who, with great energy and devotion, built the Church we know today. It has changed much since his day. The Lady Altar and Victorian glass remain. The Sanctuary has been redesigned. The present Altar replaced one of Italian marble, donated by the Connaught Rangers (stationed in Pembroke Dock) in 1893. The West Window, which commenmorates the Blessed Welsh Martyrs, and the Windows in the North Wall, are of very recent date.

 

Caldey Island Refounded

1906 AD

 

Caldey Abbey, with which St Teilo's Parish has a close connection, owes its foundation, after nearly 4 centuries of lay possession, to Anglican Benedictines. They purchased the islands in 1906 and, perhaps inevitably, were received into the Church in 1913. They stayed for 15 years, moving to Prinknash Park, to be replaced by the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance. Caldey Island is now popular tourist attraction, yet the Monks remain, preserving its peace and tranquility.