Review – Early Christianity in South-West Britain: Wessex, Somerset, Devon, Cornwall, and the Channel Islands

3 mins read

Elizabeth Rees
Windgather Press, £34.99
ISBN 978-1911188551
Review AB

Christianity was first brought to Britain by the Romans and it underwent many drastic changes between the time of its initial introduction and the Norman Conquest. In this book, Elizabeth Rees – a Roman Catholic nun and expert on early Christianity – sets out to examine the evidence for the development of Christianity in south-west Britain, drawing on a wide range of sources, examining historical texts and archaeological evidence, as well as place-names and surviving religious sites. This is enhanced by comparisons with religious sites and accounts from Brittany, Wales, and further afield.

The evolution of early Christianity is tracked through a survey of significant sites in the area, beginning with early Roman villa house-churches, where attention is drawn to the fascinating merging of pagan and Christian beliefs reflected in the symbolism used in their mosaics. From these rural sites, Rees moves to an examination of central Somerset and the churches and towns that were built up from early minsters amid the swelling tide of Christianity after the collapse of Roman rule. A study of coastal sites in Somerset and Devon incorporates details of the early Christian figures and saints that lived in these places, and a discussion of The Life of Samson, the earliest written record of monastic life in Cornwall, gives further insights into how these early Christians lived and their place in the wider context of the spread of the religion. The review of early Christian sites in east, central, and west Cornwall, and in the Isles of Scilly, Guernsey, and Jersey, also ties these places to the people who occupied them and highlights the changes in attitudes towards, and experiences of, Christianity that occurred in the crucial time between the Roman and Norman periods.

The author’s religious background offers a unique perspective, and the attention given to the scripture behind the various aspects of Christianity discussed is extremely beneficial for understanding the story of its development. This insight is combined with a detailed historical and archaeological approach, and a selection of lovely images, resulting in a highly engaging and informative volume.

This review appeared in CA 362. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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