Great Rulers

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It is singular that no traces of Christianity seem to have been left in Britain on the completion of the Saxon conquest, although it had been planted there as early as the time of Constantine. Helena was a Christian, and Pelagius and Celestine were British monks. But the Saxon conquest eradicated all that was left of Roman influence and institutions.

When Christianity had once acquired a foothold among the Saxons its progress was rapid. In no country were monastic institutions more firmly planted. Monasteries and churches were erected in the principal settlements and liberally endowed by the Saxon kings. In Kent were the great sees of Canterbury and Rochester; in Essex was London; in East Anglia was Norwich; in Wessex was Winchester; in Mercia were Lichfield, Leicester, Worcester, and Hereford; in Northumbria were York, Durham, and Ripon. Each cathedral had its schools and convents. Christianity became the law of the land, and entered largely into all the Saxon codes. There was a constant immigration of missionaries into Britain, and the great sees were filled with distinguished ecclesiastics, frequently from the continent, since a strong union was cemented between Rome and the English churches. Prince and prelate made frequent pilgrimages to the old capital of the world, and were received with distinguished honors. The monasteries were filled with princes and nobles and ladies of rank. As early as the eighth century monasteries were enormously multiplied and enriched, for the piety of the Saxons assumed a monastic type. What civilization existed can be traced chiefly to the Church.

We read of only three great names among the Saxons who impressed their genius on the nation, until the various Saxon kingdoms were united under the sovereignty of Ecgberht, or Egbert, king of Wessex, about the middle of the ninth century. These were Theodore, Caedmon, and Baeda. The first was a monk from Tarsus, whom the Pope dispatched in the year 668 to Britain as Archbishop of Canterbury. To him the work of church organization was intrusted. He enlarged the number of the sees, and arranged them on the basis which was maintained for a thousand years. The subordination of priest to bishop and bishop to primate was more clearly defined by him. He also assembled councils for general legislation, which perhaps led the way to national parliaments. He not only organized the episcopate, but the parish system, and even the system of tithes has been by some attributed to him. The missionary who had been merely the chaplain of a nobleman became the priest of the manor or parish.

The second memorable man was born a cowherd; encouraged to sing his songs by the abbess Hilda, a "Northumbrian Deborah." When advanced in life he entered through her patronage a convent, and sang the marvellous and touching stories of the Hebrew Scriptures, fixing their truths on the mind of the nation, and becoming the father of English poetry.

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