Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Wat's Dyke

Building fences has been part of the Welsh landscape since the causewayed camps of the Neolithic folks. Intruders [first wild animals, then wild men!] could only be kept out by vertical walls with, probably, water-filled ditches outside them. As time passed, and the needs changed, these fences became more complex taking all sorts of shapes and sizes. Hill forts became the norm, and all sizes were constructed depending upon the manpower and the resources.

The Romans of course went all out, building stone fences (walls) which parts still stand today. These were linear fences, marking long distances, which would certainly provide quite an impression to those on the other side.

The Anglo-Saxons followed with a series of wooden fences that would clearly mark a border to their most recent conquered lands. Starting in the south, the Wessex folks separated Cornwall from Wales following the battle of Dyrham [around 577 AD] by building Wansdyke. Thus the southern flank was somewhat protected from those wild Welsh.

The Northumbians and Mercians fought one another for the privilege to set the northern border. At first, the Northumbrian folks took the lead, and at the battle of Chester [ca. 613] defeated the folks from Powys. [It was here that the slaughter of monks at Bangor-Is-Coed is recorded.] Then, the Mercia Kingdom felt that the Northumbians were getting too powerful, and at the battle of Oswestry [Cogwy] around 641 AD, they put a stop to the Northumbrian folks. It was then the Mercians turn to set the stage for building Wat's Dyke. [The Annales Cambriae records ca. 634 AD that the Britons lost the crown of the kingdom and the Saxons won it!]

The drawing above shows the rough location of Wat's Dyke. Its name most likely comes from the Anglo-Saxon, "wat", meaning "guards". [See: Hand-Book of Anglo-Saxon and Early English, by Hiram Corson, 1873, p. 472.] It "guards" the northern most section of the Welsh border, protecting the northern flank of Anglo-Saxon settlement [colonists]. It was in this area where the onset of Welsh attacks was most frequent and destructive, making for the productive lands of Shropshire.

Starting at Oswestry (Oswestry Old Fort), the dyke moved northward along a series of lands and settlements which ended at Basingwerk Abbey. The locations identified [shown on the map] fell along both sides of this dyke, and represented my own family's locations. It was along Wat's Dyke that my JONES family had settled many years before the Anglo-Saxons arrived. Understanding this relationship [Wat's Dyke to family's land] has helped me sort through my Welsh genealogy...but that's another story.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

This End of the World

Understanding the dynamics of this new faith, first called "Christian" at Antioch [see Book of Acts 11:26], is important in realizing the implications that it had on individuals for generations to come. Just as the Celtic world would never be the same, the whole world would never be the same. It is hard to imagine, that a small group of folks who had huddled around fear, discouragement, and doubt, would lead this new faith first in Jerusalem, then to Judea, then to Samaria, and then to the end of the world.

Eusebius writing some three centuries later, outlines the early centers of this faith. Jerusalem beginning around 41 AD, followed by Antioch; then Rome [54 AD], followed by Alexandria in Egypt.

It was under Diocletian [starting 284 AD] that the destruction of these early centers occurred, ending the Church at Jerusalem [35 leaders listed from 41 AD to 282 AD], Antioch [ 19 leaders listed 41 AD to 286 AD], and Alexandria [17 leaders listed 54 AD to 286 AD]. The Church at Rome was the only one to survive, listing Miltiades as the leader in 311 AD. [Rome had 29 leaders listed between 54 AD to 286 AD.] It was during this period of persecution that many of the faith fled to areas at the edges of the known world.

One such group moved to the edge of the Egyptian desert. Prayer and contemplation was certainly needed and a fellow named Antony lead the way. His example is credited with the movement titled "monasticism" [ca. 251 AD - 356 AD] which by 370 AD had spread to Tours in what is now France. By 400 AD disciples of Martin of Tours had established a monastery at a place on the coast of what is now south-west Scotland. It was called Whithorn, and a monk named Ninian (d. 432) started things off on this end of the world.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Never Be The Same

As early as 60 AD, Paul the Apostle indicated an interest in visiting Spain. [The book of Romans 15:24.] At this time in the Roman world, the "Diocese of Spain" was administratively considered part of the "Prefecture of Gaul". In this Prefecture, besides the Diocese of Spain, and the Diocese of Gaul, was the "Diocese of Britain". It was the increase in persecution of this new "sect" that would lead many to flee to this western most part of the end of the world.

By the time Christianity had become the state religion, Eusebius (ca. 325 AD) had recorded countless names of those killed by the state from the time of Tiberius [14 AD], to that of Maximin. [306 AD] Eusebius himself had been placed in prison 309 AD for his Christian faith. Gaul was listed by Eusebius with three centers of church activity at 1) Arles, 2) Lyons, and 3) Vienne. Out of these three centers, much was done to spread Christianity to the Islands.

However, it was those folks from the Egyptian desert that seemed to play the earliest roll in bringing the Christian faith to the Islands. Hermits and monks they were often called. Living a life of strict self-denial, they brought to the Celtic world a life style that would easily be recognized in the wilds of this western most frontier. Besides, who in their right mind would want to come to this part of the world unless their very life depended upon it!

It would have been a slow and gradual process from this migration of monks from Gaul and the Iberian peninsula. These islands would never be the same.

The work of Eusebius is found: "The History of The Church" translated by G.A. Williamson, Dorset Press, 1984. A listing of the martyrs are given on pp. 418-420. The centers of Church activity (Bishoprics) are given on pp. 417-418.