How Long?

Within a stone’s throw of the cathedral of Poitiers stands the mid-4th c. Baptistère Saint-Jean (1), very likely the oldest Christian building in France.

There is nowhere as old as this in England, but parts of Brixworth (Northants) are believed to go back to the 7th century (p. 35). Here there are obvious Anglo-Saxon fragments like the 8th c. eagle (2).

At first sight, the church at Edenham (Lincs) looks like a late Gothic build, but high inside the S. aisle are 8th c. roundels (3); another 8th c. piece, the shaft of a cross, stands in the N. aisle. Not far away, at 'Ihurlby, the church (4) stands on the bank of the Roman Car Dyke, which linked Lincoln and Peterborough. Thurlby church has the early-sounding dedication to St Firmin (claimed to be the first bishop of both Amiens and Tarragona).

In Norfolk’s Breckland, no part of the church of St Mary the Virgin, Eccles (5) can be confidently dated earlier than the 13th c., yet it stands close to the intersection of two Roman roads. The name Eccles, derived from the Latin noun ecclesia (a church), survives in the Welsh eglwys; was there a Romano-British church here?

Christian worship has been offered in many places for far longer than we imagine. ND

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