Short History of Wales

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Gradually the power of Rome began to wane, and its hold on distant countries like Britain began to relax. The wandering nations were gathering on its eastern and northern borders, and its walls and legions at last gave way. It had not been a kind mother to the nations it had conquered--in war it had been cruel, and in peace it had been selfish and stern. The lust of rule became stronger as its arm became weaker. The degradation of slavery and the heavy hand of the tax-gatherer were extending even to Wales. The barbarian invader found the effeminate, luxurious empire an easy prey. In 410 Alaric and his host of Goths appeared before the city of Rome itself; and a horde of barbarians, thirsting for blood and spoil, surged into it. The fall of the great city was a shock to the whole world; the end of the world must be near, for how could it stand without Rome? Jerome could hardly sob the strange news: "Rome, which enslaved the whole world, has itself been taken."

Rome had taken the yoke of Christ; and many said that it fell because it had spurned the gods that had given it victory. Three years after Alaric had sacked it, Augustine wrote a book to prove that it was not the city of God that had fallen; and that the heathen gods could neither have built Rome in their love nor destroyed it in their anger. He then describes the rise of the real "City of God," in the midst of which is the God of justice and mercy, and "she shall not be moved."


The name of Christ had been heard in Britain during the period of Roman rule, but we do not know who first sounded it. There are many beautiful legends--that the great apostle of the Gentiles himself came to Britain; that Joseph of Arimathea, having been placed by the Jews in an open boat, at the mercy of wind and wave, landed in Britain; that some of the captives taken to Rome with Caratacus brought back the tidings of great joy.

We know that the name of Christ, between 200 and 300 years after His death, was well known in Britain, and that churches had been built for His worship. Between 300 and 400 we have an organised church and a settled creed. Between 400 and 500 there was searching of heart and creed, and heresies--a sure sign that the people were alive to religion. Between 500 and 600 there was a translation of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into the better-known Latin. The whole of Wales becomes Christian; and probably St David converted the last pagans, and built his church among them.

Between 450 and 500 a stream of pagan Teutons flowed over the east of Britain, and the British Church was separated from the Roman Church. By 664 British and Roman missionaries had converted the English; and the two Churches of Rome and Britain, once united, were face to face again. But they had grown in different ways, and refused to know each other. Their Easter came on different days; they did not baptize in the same way; the tonsure was different--a crescent on the forehead of the British monk, and a crown on the pate of the Roman monk. In the Roman Church there was rigid unity and system; in the British Church there was much room for self-government. The newly converted English chose the Roman way, because they were told that St Peter, whose see Rome was, held the keys of heaven. Between 700 and 800 the Welsh gradually gave up their religious independence, and joined the Roman Church.

But there was another dispute. Were the four old Welsh bishoprics-- Bangor, St Asaph, St David's, Llandaff--to be subject to the English archbishop of Canterbury, or to have an archbishopric of their own at St David's? By 1200 the Welsh bishoprics were subject to the English archbishop, and Giraldus Cambrensis came too late to save them.

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