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Coptic Ireland – A Chronology

A chronology of events, mostly related to Egypt, some of which may have had a long term influence or impact on the evolution of Christianity in Ireland and, therefore, Europe.

 

 

The Narmer Palette, also known as the Great Hierakonpolis Palette, dates from about the 31st century BC, and contains some of the earliest hieroglyphic inscriptions ever found. The tablet is thought by some to depict the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under a king by name of Narmer.

3000 BCE: Approximate era of the remarkable Narmer Palette.

 

2700 BCE: Approximate era of first pyramid building.

 

c. 1370 – c. 1330 BCE: Era of Queen Nefertiti and the Pharaoh Akhenaten who abandons Egypt’s traditional polytheism (including Osiris, Anubis etc.) introducing Atenism, or worship centred on the cult of Aten, a god depicted as the disc of the Sun. Aten was originally an aspect of Ra, Egypt’s traditional solar deity, though he was later asserted by Akhenaten as being the superior of all deities. Atenism becomes Egypt’s state religion but collapses with major plague at end of Akhenaten’s reign.

 

c. 1332 BCE: Ten year reign of Tutankhaten commences. On his death in 1323, he is briefly succeeded by Ay marks the end of the line for the Eighteenth Dynasty of ancient Egypt.

 

1319 BCE: Ay died and is succeeded by his general, Horemheb, a non-royal, who orders a purge of the Amarna Period rulers, removing Akhenaten and his allies from the official lists of Pharaohs, and destroying their monuments, including most remaining Aten temples.

 

1200 BCE: Hendel and Joosten date the oldest parts of the Hebrew Bible (the Song of Deborah in Judges 5 and the Samson story of Judges 16 and 1 Samuel). The Israelites were a Canaanite tribe from the northern hills on both sides of the Jordan, primarily Samaria; their settlements are identified by lack of pig bones.

 

1000 BCE: The approximate era of Kings David and Solomon.

 

C6th BCE: Jewish scriptures composed and written down with the return from Babylonian exile of some of the Jewish elite.  They enforce a very strict ‘purified’ Jewish theocracy on Jerusalem and project the story of purists v backsliders onto Israelite ancestors, creating the mythology of slavery in Egypt, the Exodus and the clearing of the Promised Land of Canaanites. For the Jewish People, ancient Egypt has a deep allure. This myth still drives the Zionist settlers in the West Bank, who believe they’re doing a rerun of Joshua v the Canaanites. The Egyptian elements in Israelite religion are due to the whole region coming under Egyptian control (empire).  MB adds: “The myth of King Solomon with zillions of wives, loads of wealth and a huge temple is straight out of the Middle Eastern cultural ideology of ‘How to Impress the Neighbours’.”

 

C5th BCE: The earliest compilation, containing the first five books of the Bible and called the Torah or Pentateuch (“five books”), is accepted as Jewish canon.  “The Torah (meaning “Instruction”, “Teaching” or “Law”) is the compilation of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, namely Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The word Torah can also be used as a synonym for the whole of the Hebrew Bible.  Much of the first two books of the Torah takes place in Egypt. The experience of the Israelites in Egypt is so important to the centrality of Judaism that the Exodus from Egypt is mentioned in the very opening of the Ten Commandments. “I am the Lord your God, who have brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery dus 20:2)”

 

438-439 BCE: Parthenon Marbles created in Athens.

 

358-340 BCE: Reign of Herbie Brennan’s soulmate Nectanebo II, the last native ruler of ancient Egypt, as well as the third and last pharaoh of the Thirtieth Dynasty

 

331 BCE: Alexandria founded as a capital of the new Greek-controlled Egypt by Alexander the Great. It was built on the island of Pharos that Helen of Troy visited twice, once with Paris, which is why Alexander (who adored Homer) was so keen to build new city there. Alexandria was purpose-built, virtually from scratch as his signature city… a hub of both trade and knowledge that remains his amazing legacy to this day, still carrying his name. It stood where the Nile meets the Mediterranean meets the Red Sea. Alexander only visited Alexandria for a couple of months tops. The city remained Egypt’s capital for c. 1000 years until Cairo was founded by followers of Islam. It was a Greek city, in that its citizens spoke Greek. They were also described as Greeks in old Irish manuscripts. Hence, when ‘Greek crosses’ are identified in Ireland, they are quite feasibly Egyptian crosses.

 

325 BCE: Pytheas, geographer, explorer and astronomer from the Greek colony of Massalia (modern-day Marseille) makes voyage of exploration to north-western Europe, visiting a considerable part of modern-day Great Britain and Ireland, as well as the Arctic.

 

305 BCE: Ptolemy, a general, historian and friend and successor of Alexander the Great becomes basileus and effective pharaoh of Ptolemaic Egypt until his death in 282 BC. Alexander and Ptolemy both had Aristotle for a teacher – Aristotle (who actually helped design the grid-like city of Alexandria), was taught by Plato, who was taught by Socrates, so a serious lineage!

 

284-246 BCE: Great Library of Alexandria built during the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus and may have had anything from 40,000 to 700,000 scrolls at its peak, most of them kept in amphora jars as a form of air conditioning! A solitary fragment of a scroll survives. The library is also a college of sorts, complete with mapmakers, which explains why the geographers Strabo and Claudius Ptolemy worked there and made their maps there.

The first version of the Lighthouse (Pharos) of Alexandria was also completed during the time of Ptolemy II Philadelphus, another Wonder of the World. Indeed, it is notable that the coast alongside Alexandria was treacherous enough for them to have required a lighthouse in the first place! The Lighthouse was one of the only, if not the only, practical wonder of the world. Alexandria and its lighthouse are set upon two ridges, an excellent location, a semi-artificial island with a causeway. The main description of the lighthouse is from 1165 so bear in mind it probably did not look like that in earlier times!

All this underlines what a mega city Alexandria was. It was excellently planned city on an isthmus, replete with villas, sewage, aqueduct (like Naples?), running water and a racecourse. Within a few centuries, monasticism and Christianity had also arguably started in Alexandria, as well as the Catechetical School of Alexandria. The city thrived as an Ptolemaic city, but it went into decline when it’s taken over by the Romans.

 

280-132 BCE c.: Ptolemy II Philadelphus, pharaoh of Egypt (284-246BCE) is thought to have commissioned The Septuagint, or the LXX, a translation of the Hebrew scriptures, and some related texts, into Koine Greek. The work, which commenced in Alexandria, is believed to have been carried out by approximately 70 scribes and elders who were Hellenic Jews. Fragments of the Septuagint were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

 

250 BCE – 100 AD: Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in the caves of Qumran in 1947. The Dead Sea Scrolls show a tolerance for different traditions and different beliefs, which says much about the Essenes who may have assembled them. The Essenes were a closed apocalyptic community – what we would nowadays classify as a cult, or a sect. It is sometime claimed that John the Baptist and Jesus were associated but the Essenes were a very exclusive group, obsessed with purity as a condition of membership. This does not tally with Jesus, the leper-touching open-to-all Messiah, and nor does their penchant for linen clothes tally with John the Baptist’s scratchy camel robes. Nonetheless, the scrolls were the sort of manuscripts that would have been around in the time of Jesus and John. Such tolerance was wiped out by the fundamentalism of the Constantinople church. The Qumran Caves, where the scrolls were found, seems to have been a library of the Essenes, rather than their headquarters.

 

200 BCE: Eratosthenes of Cyrene (c. 276 BC – c. 195/194 BC), a Greek polymath and chief librarian at the Library of Alexandria becomes the first person known to calculate the circumference of the Earth, which he did by using the extensive survey results … Dalrymple says his answer was only 54 miles off.

 

145 BCE: Purging of intellectuals from Alexandria during the reign of Ptolemy VIII Physcon, leads Aristarchus of Samothrace, the head librarian at the Great Library, to resign and go into exile in Cyprus.

 

51 BCE: Cleopatra becomes Queen of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt until her death in 30 BC.

 

48-47 BCE: The Great Library, or part of its collection, is accidentally burned by Julius Caesar during his civil war with Pompey. Some say 40,000 scrolls were lost to the flames. While under siege in Alexandria, Caesar meets Cleopatra and becomes her lover after she slips into the royal quarter. Bob Fisher of San Francisco told me of its rebuild –   https://www.snohetta.com/projects/bibliotheca-alexandrina

 

30 BCE: Death of Cleopatra, the last of the Ptolemy’s line. The Romans take control of Egypt on her death.

 

 

Anno Domini

 

 

00: Traditional date given for the birth of Jesus Christ.

 

10s:  The legend that a young Jesus visited Britain with his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, is based on the fact that there was trade in tin across the Roman empire.

 

20s: The prophet John the Baptist appears to be in his element. He lived on locusts and honey, which were pure and uncooked, and wears camel hair because it is especially coarse and punishing. It is suggested that the young John was attached to the Essene sect (who may have been tied to the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran) in some way. John was active at the time the Qumran community was in vogue, and it was in the same deserty neighbourhood that he liked.  He was also from a priestly family, one of the conditions of the Essenes, and he lives a similarly ascetic lifestyle. He also shared their beliefs that one’s soul and body had to be richly immersed / purified in water, but that was a belief shared across much of the Jewish community at that time. On balance, it seems unlikely he was an Essene. They certainly preferred linen to camel hair, and their version of baptism was very different to his. In any event, if he was connected, he did not remain with them very long.

 

One also thinks about Jesus in the wilderness – was he inspired by St John? Did he also live on locusts?!

 

30: Traditional date given for the execution of John the Baptist. It may have been much closer to Christ’s crucifixion, perhaps even weeks or days apart.

 

33: Traditional date given for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

 

34 c.: Sometime after consenting to the stoning of St Stephen, the first Christian martyr, Saul of Tarsus, a Jew with Roman citizenship, is traveling on the road to Damascus when Christ appears before him in a flashing light. St Paul does not really mention Jesus, save to say that he appeared to him. And yet Christianity as we know it is very much the Pauline version. Why doesn’t he mention John the Baptist? There’s some thoughts on that here. Do we know how the Desert Fathers rated Paul? He noticeably never went to Egypt, which is strange as that’s where the Faith took almost immediate root.  He shot off in the other direction, founding his own communities of which none survived.  It was really St Augustine of Hippo who brought him into theological fashion.

 

38: Alexandria continues to be a hub of multiple thinkers and ideologies but a visit to the city by King Herod Agrippa I triggers the Alexandrian pogroms, with Greek citizens destroying Alexandrian synagogues. The violence ends when Emperor Caligula has Governor Flaccus removed from the city.

 

40: Riots flare up again in Alexandria between Jews, accused of not honouring the emperor, and Greeks.

 

41-54: An addition is built onto the Great Library of Alexandria during reign of Emperor Claudius (41–54 AD).

 

43: Claudius arrives in Britannia with 40,000 troops, only half of whom survive to retirement.

 

66–73: The First Jewish–Roman War in which the Roman army, led by future Emperor Titus, besieges Jerusalem, the centre of Jewish rebel resistance in the Roman province of Judaea. Following a five-month siege, the Romans destroy the city as well as the Second Jewish Temple. This prompts a mass exodus from Jerusalem to Alexandria as large number of Jews are already there. Alexandria is a diaspora hub with a ready-made passage of assistance. Egypt is also seen as the original Holy Land to which the Holy Family went in the Flight to Egypt. Bear in mind that Christ followers in Jerusalem at this time were Jews not Christian.

68: Date given for the martyrdom in Egypt of St Mark, the legendary gospel writer. The authors of the gospels are unknown – the names of Apostles attached to them to lend credibility. The legend of Mark says he was a Libyan Jew whose family moved to Jerusalem c 40 AD to escape Berber attacks. His gospel is the oldest of the four, thus being closest to the time of Jesus. The Coptic Church claim he was the first of its 118 popes, but this appears to be a latter day construct. By extension, it is notable that his name has a low score in townland or church names in Ireland.

 

68:  The site of the Qumran Caves, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, was destroyed by Romans and many scrolls never recovered. Another layer!

 

100 c: The term Christian is apparently coined in Antioch, although Alexandria becomes the first Christian city according to a claim that the Coptic had its first formal body there c. 100AD.

 

98: Tacitus’s The Agricola (‘De vita et moribus Iulii Agricolae’) offers an insight into Ireland that suggests its harbours are reasonably well known in the Roman world. “That island, compared with Britain, is of smaller dimensions, but it is larger than the islands of our own sea. In regard to soil, climate, and the character and ways of its inhabitants, it is not markedly different from Britain: we are better informed, thanks to the trade of merchants, about the approaches to the island and its harbours.’

 

116: Tacitus’s Annals provides an early account of the persecution of Christians and one of the earliest extra-Biblical references to the crucifixion of Jesus by Pontius Pilate.[1]

 

132-136: Bar Kokhba revolt by the Jews of the Roman province of Judaea, led by Simon bar Kokhba, against the Roman Empire  and quickly spread across Judaea.

 

130-135:  Emperor Hadrian builds a temple to either Venus or Jupiter over the supposed site of Jesus’ tomb near Calvary, and renames Jerusalem ‘Aelia Capitolina’.

 

140 c: Compilation of ‘Geography’ (Geographia / Cosmographia), by Claudius Ptolemy, an Egyptian born mathematician, astronomer, and geographer who was living in Egypt when it was ruled by the Roman Empire. This gazetteer, atlas, and treatise on cartography, was a thorough study of the known geography of the Greco-Roman world in the 2nd-century. Much of the book is based upon the work of an earlier geographer, Marinos of Tyre, and on gazetteers of the Roman and ancient Persian empire. Ptolemy was probably working from the Great Library of Alexandria and was aided by information from the many ships’ captains docking in Alexandria at this time. Located on the East-West crossroads of the world, the Great Library continued to be a major hub for thought and religion.

Geographia includes the coordinates that enable the creation of the earliest map of Ireland. Ptolemy called Ireland ‘Iouerníā’, which is thought to mean ‘abundant land’, and from which derive the Irish names Ériu and Éire. The interpretation of how Ireland might have looked is not a bad shot at the real shape of Ireland, all things considered. It shows there was considerable knowledge of Ireland in the Mediterranean region, and clocks the rivers too, a nice sight for people who liked baptising people in rivers.  The map kind of has the Kerry legs in place too.

The island of Skye was probably Ptolemy’s island of ‘Scetis’, which he apparently places at random near the north-east promontory of Scotland.

If you’d like to try and interpret the map, see http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00750770801909375

 

150-160: Tatian, an Assyrian apologist and ascetic, harmonizes the four gospels of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John into a single narrative, the Diatesseron. Within twenty years, Bishop Irenaeus is expressly arguing for the authoritative character of the Four Gospels.

 

161-180: Persecution of Christians during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor (161-180).

 

177 c.: Irenaeus of Smyrna, a Greek theologian and bishop of Lugdunum, now Lyon, in France, is the first to choose the four gospels that would become accepted as canonical, or authentic, by the institution of the Christian Church.  Four was deemed a suitable number because, as Irenaeus observed, there were four zones on Earth where people lived, as well as four winds. Thus, the Evangelist gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John came to be. Irenaeus is also the earliest attestation that the Gospel of John was written by John the Apostle, and that the Gospel of Luke was written by Luke, the companion of Paul.

Among the apocryphal Christian scripture or texts not included in the New Testament were the Gnostic Gospels. These include the gospels of Thomas, Mary, Judas and Philip. The latter is noted by Dalrymple as it “emphasises Jesus’s lustily red-blooded attachment to Mary Magdalene”. No one knows how many gospels there were in existence, some suggest up to 200.  Basically, a Gospel is the product of a community, not a lone author, so each group of Christians would have taken bits and pieces from unknown sources and put together their own versions.  There was no heresy until orthodoxy was established by Constantine.

 

178: The Catechetical School of Alexandria appears to have been well established by 178 when Athenagoras, an Ante-Nicene Christian apologist, was among its teachers.

 

Pre-180: Gospel of Judas, a Gnostic gospel, comprising of conversations between Jesus and Judas Iscariot, composed pre-180 by Gnostic Christians, not by Judas.

 

180: Saint Pantaenus the Philosopher, a Stoic, is teaching at the Catechetical School of Alexandria until his death circa 200. Some say he was head of the school but othe suggest the school operated without a leader.

 

180: Clement of Alexandria, a Christian theologian and philosopher (also known as Titus Flavius Clemens) moves to Alexandria and studies under Pantaenus at the Catechetical School.

 

190: Clement of Alexandria is now a leading teacher at the Catechetical School of Alexandria. He may have been a married man. His major works published at this time are Protrepticus (Exhortation), c. 195 AD; The Paedagogus (Tutor), c. 198 AD; and The Stromata (Miscellanies), c. 198 AD–c. 203 AD.

 

193: The Year of the Five Emperors – five men claim to be Roman emperor, but the winner is Libya-born Septimius Severus who reigned until 211 and died in Yorkshire.

 

202-203: During the Severian persecution, Clement of Alexandria leaves the city, possibly for Jerusalem or Cappadocia. His work Salvation for the Rich, also known as Who is the Rich Man who is Saved? was written at about this time. He died in 215.

 

200: At age 18, Origen becomes a catechist at the Catechetical School of Alexandria, where he starts to put the Bible together, aka Hexapla, sometime before 240. He used allegory to interpret Jewish scripture in terms of Christian belief, thereby bringing Jewish and Christian writings together, the basis of the Bible, aka the Good Book.

Alexandria was always regarded as rather liberal. The Jews of Jerusalem maintained that the Jews of Alexandria were more interested in the theatre than the synagogue.

 

208: Emperor Septimius Severus travels to Britain, strengthens Hadrian’s Wall and reoccupies the Antonine Wall.

 

209: Septimius Severus invades Caledonia (Scotland) with an army of 50,000 men.

 

211: Septimius Severus dies at Eboracum (York) in England.

215-216: Emperor Caracalla (198-217 AD) visits Alexandria. An enthusiast for the Graeco-Egyptian god of healing Serapis, he had apparently renovated Alexandria’s Iseum and Serapeum temples. However, when he is satirised by some Alexandrians, he apparently orders his troops to put to slaughter a deputation of its leading citizens. He also apparently persecuted philosophers of the Aristotelian school in Alexandria because of a legend that Aristotle had poisoned Alexander the Great, with whom Caracalla was infatuated.

 

227: Birth of Paul of Thebes in the Thebaid of Egypt.

 

231: Origen is banished from Egypt after coming into conflict with Bishop Demetrius of Alexandria, after he was ordained as a presbyter by his friend, the bishop of Caesarea. “Demetrius condemned Origen for insubordination and accused him of having castrated himself and of having taught that even Satan would eventually attain salvation, an accusation which Origen vehemently denied.”

 

233 c.: Origen founds the Theological Library of Caesarea Maritima, aka the Christian School of Caesarea, in Palestine, where he taught logic, cosmology, natural history, and theology, and became regarded by the churches of Palestine and Arabia as the ultimate authority on all matters of theology.

 

244, 251: Evidence of Manichaeanism in Egypt.

 

249: After a 70-year lull since the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180, persecution of Christians resumes under Emperors Decius (r. 249–251) and Trebonianus Gallus (r. 251–253). At this time, a young Paul of Thebes flees to the desert.

 

250 c. Origen of Alexandria reputedly becomes the first to list the twenty-seven books of the New Testament with his ‘Homilies on Joshua’.

 

253: Approximate year of torture and death of Origen of Alexandria.

 

260: The persecution of Emperor Valerian (r. 253–260) ceases with his capture and execution by the Sasanian Empire’s Shapur I at the Battle of Edessa during the Roman–Persian Wars.

 

269/270: Martyrdom of St Valentine by the Roman Emperor Claudius II. The Carmelite Church on Whitefriar Street, Dublin, claims that the saint’s remains were given to Father John Sprat by Pope Gregory XVI in the 19th century: his shrine can be found in the church to this day.

 

270-271: Antony the Great follows Paul of Thebes into the desert. They become known as the father and founder of the desert monasticism. Thebes, known to the ancient Egyptians as Waset, was an ancient Egyptian city located along the Nile about 800 km south of the Mediterranean. Its ruins lie within the modern Egyptian city of Luxor.

 

272: Emperor Aurelian (270-275) launches imperial counterattack to recapture the city of Alexandria from the forces of the Palmyrene queen Zenobia. Aurelian’s forces destroy the Broucheion quarter of the city in which the main library was located. Thus, whatever remained of the Great Library was destroyed. The knowledge of the known world, all lost.

 

284-299: Expulsion of Christians from the army during the first phase of the Diocletianic persecution which is, in turn, the final general persecution of Christians. At this time, Eusebius of Caesarea in Palestine escapes death by fleeing to Tyre and thence to the Egyptian desert of Thebaid. Dalrymple says of St George: “He appears to have been a Christian legionary from Palestine who was martyred for refusing to worship the old pagan gods, probably during the reign of Diocletian (284-305 A.D.). He may or may not have been the unnamed martyr mentioned as suffering a particularly horrible death in the eighth book of Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History, but what is clear is that his cult was a very early one, and that it originated in Lydda, now the Tel Aviv suburb of Lod, the Heathrow of the Holy Land, directly under the flightpath of jets heading into Ben Gurion Airport. Nothing else can be said with certainty; already in the sixth century St George was referred to as ‘that Good Man whose deeds are known to God alone’.” [2]

 

286: Massacre of the Theban Legion, also known as the Martyrs of Agaunum, a Roman legion from Egypt comprised of “six thousand six hundred and sixty-six” Christian soldiers who were martyred together in 286, along with their leader St Maurice and officers such as Felix (aka Phelim) and Regula – https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felix_and_Regula … True or not, the story illustrates the possibility that Christian soldiers were going awol and these saints were/are venerated. According to David Woods, the very accomplished Professor of Classics at the University College Cork, the model of Maurice and the Theban Legion, based on the letters of Eucherius of Lyon, was a complete fiction.

 

290 c.: St Pamphilus of Beirut is installed as presbyter at Caesarea in Palestine by the new bishop, Agapius. Caesarea was a major intellectual hub of the Mediterranean at this time. Pamphilus was a disciple of Pierius, an Origen protégé, and was himself nicknamed ‘Origen the Younger’ in the Didascalion of Alexandria. Ordained by Agapius, Pamphilus remained faithful to the method of Origen. He builds the ecclesiastical library at Caesarea up to be one of the most extensive in the world, containing more than 30,000 manuscripts: Gregory Nazianzus, Basil the Great, Jerome and others came to study there. The Caesarean text-type is recognized by scholars as one of the earliest New Testament types.

 

292 c.: Anthony the Great living hermetic life in a mountain near Pispir, next to the Nile, where he remains until 311.

 

292-348: St Pachomius was all in favour of the gnostic gospels. A champion of military order too – but his gospels don’t seem to have made it through. His monastery was very close to Nag Hammadi and it’s assumed that it was these monks who buried the so-called gnostic codices there.  Saints Pachomius the Great and Athanasius of Alexandria are seemingly revered in Ireland – where did I get that notion!? I know there is a St Athanasius Monastery in Waterford.

 

297: Whatever remains of the Great Library was likely destroyed during Emperor Diocletian’s siege of Alexandria. The city’s influence is on the wane.

 

300 c.: Armenia becomes the first country to adopt Christianity about when St. Gregory the Illuminator converted the Arsacid king Tiridates III (298-300).

 

303: Diocletianic Persecution, the last great formal persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire, kicks off with a series of edicts rescinding Christians’ legal rights and demanding that they comply with traditional religious practices.

 

305: Bishop Melitius of Lycopolis imprisoned alongside Patriarch Peter I of Alexandria. Melitius advocates the open practice of Christianity in the face of official persecution, including the celebration of the liturgy, and urged Christians not to go into hiding. Among those said to have been martyred was the virginal Catherine of Alexandria, also spelled Katherine.

 

306: Following the death Emperor Constantius (305-306) at Eboracum (York) in England, his troops proclaim his son Constantine Augustus (emperor), kick-starting sparking almost twenty years of civil war. These end when Constantine finally unites the whole Roman Empire under his rule in 324.

 

306: In opposition to Constantine, Maxentius commences his six-year reign as Roman Emperor of the East (306-312). Melitius and Peter are released from jail in a temporary respite from persecution. Peter outlines terms of readmission of “lapsed” Christians, i.e., those who had abjured the faith under persecution, but Melitius found his terms ‘too lax’ and a schism ensued. For his opposition, Peter had Melitius excommunicated.

 

309 Feb: St Pamphilus, Origenist librarian, was martyred and the collections he built up at the library suffer although many were later repaired and restored when the persecution finished in 313. How many works were lost?

 

310 c.: Melitius condemned to work in the mines and Peter is martyred.

 

311: Edict of Serdica, also called Edict of Toleration by Galerius, officially ends the Diocletianic Persecution of Christianity in the Eastern Roman Empire. Melitius is released and returns to Egypt where he founds a sect later known as the Melitians, or the Church of the Martyrs, with clergy of his own ordination.

 

311: Anthony the Great relocates to cave at Mount Colzim (now called Saint Anthony’s Hermitage) on the west coast of the Gulf of Suez [Red Sea], where he remains until his death in 356, save for a visit to Alexandria in 338.

 

310-313: Despite the Edict of Serdica, persecution of Christians in Egypt continues during short reign of Maximinus Daza, the last Roman Emperor and, by extension, the last pharaoh. Prior to becoming Emperor, he had been governor of Egypt and Syria since 205.

 

312: Emperor Maxentius killed in battle at Milvian Bridge across the Tiber by Constantine’s forces. According to Christian chroniclers Eusebius of Caesarea and Lactantius, Constantine’s victory marked the beginning of his conversion to Christianity.

 

312: Constantine brings his mother Helena of Constantinople aka Saint Helena, back into the imperial court; she had been ousted when Constantius divorced her in 289. She could be the real reason for the official establishment of Christianity as Constantine was heavily influenced by her belief, just like St Augustine and his mum.

 

312: An early use of the word Scoti is found in the Nomina Provinciarum Omnium (Names of All the Provinces), a short list of the names and provinces of the Roman Empire.

 

313: Emperor Maximinus Daza issues an edict of tolerance shortly before his death in July. This follows the earlier Edict of Milan (Feb 313), agreed by Western Roman Emperor Constantine I and Emperor Licinius, who controlled the Balkans, bringing an end to the persecution of Christians.  Elsewhere, Alexander I becomes the new Pope / Patriarch of Alexandria.

 

319: Patriarch Alexander I seeks to heal the schism in the Egyptian church to better combat the Arian heresy led by the Alexandrian priest Arius. Arius embraced the belief that Christ was the divine Son (Logos) of God, made, not begotten. Greatly influenced by Alexandrian thinkers like Origen, this view was a common Christological view in Alexandria at the time.

 

324: Constantine now sole ruler of the Roman Empire; Christianity is his favoured religion. Notably, Christ is now depicted as a king / emperor, rather than a carpenter’s son – a Roman upgrade! Prior to Constantine, that was a huge variety of different opinions and beliefs across North Africa and the Middle East, many of them compatible enough to merge with one another… these appear to have been subjugated by the wrath and orthodoxy of the Constantinople church.

 

325 May-August: Emperor Constantine convenes First Council of Nicaea in the Bithynian city of Nicaea (now İznik, Turkey). The principal topics are the divine nature of God the Son and his relationship to God the Father, the construction of the first part of the Nicene Creed, mandating uniform observance of the date of Easter, and promulgation of early canon law. The council also condemns the worship of angels as ‘idolatry’, which is presumably a shot against the cult of St Michael.

The suppression of the Melitian schism also came before the Council who declared that Melitius should be confined to his own city of Lycopolis in Egypt and that he should have no authority or power to ordain new clergy; he was forbidden to go into the environs of the town or to enter another diocese for the purpose of ordaining its subjects.

 

325 July: Serapeum of Alexandria closed, probably on the orders of Constantine.

 

326–28: Emperor Constantine gives his mother Helen unlimited access to the imperial treasury to locate the relics of the Christian tradition. By a remarkable coincidence, she discovers the True Cross in Jerusalem; Constantine orders the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to be built on the site. [I’m somehow reminded of the time I was in Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe won the Lotto.] In Palestine, she orders the construction or beautification of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (327), and the Church of Eleona on the Mount of Olives.

 

327: Death of Melitus, leader of his Egyptian Christian sect. He is succeeded as leader by his handpicked successor, John Arkhaph.

 

328: Athanasius elected bishop of Alexandria, despite not yet being the legal age of thirty. He features in the stories of Paul and Anthony, the Desert Fathers.

 

330: Constantine the Great, moved the capital of the Roman Empire to the city of Byzantium and renamed it Constantinople, after himself. He is not interested in a rival city named after someone else, aka Alexandria. This coincides with the death of his mother Helena of Constantinople, aka Saint Helena, the Empress Consort. Her last act was apparently to order the building of the Chapel of the Burning Bush (also known as “Saint Helen’s Chapel”) in Sinai on the site where Moses is supposed to have seen the burning bush. This, in turn, became the site of Saint Catherine’s Monastery, which is now held sacred to Christianity, Islam, and Judaism alike.

 

330: Macarius of Egypt (c. 300–391) moves to Scetis (Wadi El Natrun) and establishes solitary retreat in the 125km2 Nitrian Desert. The hermit is also credited with establishing the Lavra (‘lauragh’) system that connects a cluster of cells or caves for hermits, with a church or refectory at the centre. Four congregations are established in Scetis with Macarius as the first chief priest or, in Greek and Coptic sources, the “Father of Scetis”. [3] He had the authority to admit or reject people who wished to join the community, as well as ‘the right to impose various punishments on monks who had sinned, such as expulsion, a temporary ban, and so on. He was the administrator of the community’s life and religious ceremonies and was subordinate to the patriarch of Alexandria, whom he would visit once a year at Easter.’

 

335: Condemnation of Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria at the Council of Tyre (now Lebanon), which establishes Arianism. Athanasius goes into exile in Trier (now Germany) and does not return from exile until the death of Constantine in 337. (His Life of St Anthony was translated into Latin less than 20 years after he composed it.) John Arkhaph, who opposed Athanasius, is also exiled (by Constantine), along with his Melitian clergy.

 

337: Death of Emperor Constantine.

 

338: Anthony the Great temporarily leaves the desert to visit Alexandria where he “denounced the Arians, saying that their heresy was the last of all and a forerunner of Antichrist.”

 

338: The monastic community of Kellia is said to have been founded by Saint Amun, or Ammon, the hermit of Nitria, under the spiritual guidance of Saint Anthony.  Amun was born in Egypt ‘of a rich and noble family.’ Ammon is also an Irish name (Edmond / Hammond), aka Ámainn. The name Kellia is generally understood to be from the Latin cella (‘a small room in a large building), meaning monastic cells, but this is before such usage came into being. The word kella in Coptic and Greek also meant the dark, secret space in a temple dedicated to a particular deity. The word was taken over into Christianity to mean the centre of the church where the liturgy was read. Thus, Kellia could either relate to this inner sanctum or each of the separate, square compounds that made up the vast monastic area. “The priest-superior of each community headed a council (ouvéôptov) of elders (oi yépovtEç), which would convene in the church of the community and deal mainly with matters of doctrine and religious discipline. This council was undoubtedly composed of clerical members–priests and deacons. It is doubtful whether it also included lay monks.

 

350 c.: Codex Sinaiticus, earliest existing complete copy of New Testament, plus the majority of the Greek Old Testament. Swiped from Saint Catherine’s in Sinai by Tischendorff in 1844.

 

356: George of Cappadocia, an Arian, is appointed Bishop of Alexandria. When the secret police of the Emperor Constantius II, also an Arian, attempt to arrest Athanasius (c.296–373), the former bishop heads for the Egyptian desert and finds protection with the dying St Anthony the Great and the monks for five or six years. By this time, so many thousands of monks and nuns were living in the desert and following St Anthony’s example that his biographer, Athanasius of Alexandria, wrote “the desert had become a city.”

 

356: Death of Anthony the Great at Mount Colzim, a mountain in the present-day Red Sea Governorate, where he had lived since 311. Athanasius of Alexandria will write his biography. Anthony’s cave is soon occupied by Sisoes the Great, who moved from Scetis (where he was under the spiritual guidance of Abba Or) and, legend holds, remained there until his death in 429.

 

357 c.: Saint Basil the Great, later Bishop of Caesarea Mazaca (now Kayseri, Turkey), visits Egypt, as well as Palestine, Syria and Mesopotamia, to study ascetics and monasticism. An influential theologian who supported the Nicene Creed and opposed the Arianism, he is the founder and organiser of the monastic movement in Asia Minor, visits Egypt. His monastic rules are followed by the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

 

360: Athanasius of Alexandria writes the ‘Life of Anthony’ in Greek. It is translated into Latin by Evagrius of Antioch before 374.

 

361-363: Emperor Julian the Apostate, a nephew of Constantine, attempts to revert the Roman empire from Christianity back to paganism and re-establishes persecution. After he is fatally stabbed at the Battle of Ctesiphon in June 363, Christianity comes back in favour.

 

364-378:  Despite attempts by Emperor Valens, an Arian, to destroy pro-Nicene monasticism in Egypt, pro-Nicene monks influence increases. Nicene orthodoxy wins in 381 at the Council of Constantinople. During his reign, Valens deports large numbers of Palestinian monks, who had risen up, to work in the Imperial mines and quarries in the deserts of Upper Egypt.

 

365: Earthquake near Crete triggers tsunami that devastates Alexandria and kills maybe 50,000 people. Amazingly, it does not topple the lighthouse – probably because of a bulwark courtyard as well as its mighty foundations. Island later sank.

 

367: Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria condemns the use of non-canonical or gnostical books in his Festal Letter. The letter also provides the first list of the 27 books of the New Testament canon that are in use today, although others say Origen of Alexandria had already listed them in his Homilies on Joshua (albeit with ongoing debate as to whether or not Origen included Revelations).

 

367: The Great Conspiracy was a year-long state of war and disorder that occurred near the end of Roman Britain. The historian Ammianus Marcellinus described it as a barbarica conspiratio, which took advantage of a depleted military force in the province; many soldiers had marched with Magnentius in his unsuccessful bid to become emperor. Few returned, and supply, pay, and discipline in the following years may have been deficient.

 

370: St Basil, who visited the Desert Fathers in 357, becomes Bishop of Caesarea Mazaca (now Kayseri, Turkey).

 

370: At about this time, the Tall Brothers are said to have established an Origenist group in Nitria, where they were occupied in studying the Holy Scripture. Named on account of their extraordinary stature, the four brothers are Fr. Ammonius and his three brothers Dioscorus, Eusebius, and Euthymius.

“They were distinguished both for the sanctity of their lives, and the extent of their erudition, and for these reasons their reputation was known in Alexandria. On the contrary the monks of Scetis who were very simple, were involved in practical worship, and looked to the Origenists as enemies of the true monastic life in the desert, because they changed it from its simplicity in practicing virtues, asceticism and continuous prayers, and in struggling against the devil, sin and the love of the world into an intellectual and contemplative life. In other words, as Hausherr says, the Origenist quarrel was not only the source of two theologies, but also of “two spiritualities.” The first type of spirituality is the intellectual mysticism of such Egyptian monks as SS. Didymus, Isidore, Ammonius the Tall, and Evagrius. The second is that of the simple monks.” (See: Origen and Origenism)

 

373: Death of Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria.

Exile of Macarius.

Rufinus of Aquila, the friend of St. Jerome, starts a seven year stint in Egypt where he frequents St. Didymus the Blind.

 

375-390: Death of Pambo, a Desert Father, who the spiritual teacher of the Tall Bros and a disciple of Anthony the Great.

 

380: The pro-Nicene Theodosius I (Theodosius the Great) publishes the Edict of Thessalonica, aimed exclusively at Constantinople and effectively urging all its citizens to profess Christianity.

 

380: After a seven year stay in Egypt (373 A.D-380 A.D), Rufinus of Aquila goes to live with Melania in the monastery on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

 

381: Theodosius summons a new ecumenical Council at Constantinople to repair the schism between East and West on the basis of Nicene orthodoxy. The council is a victory for Nicene orthodoxy. Theodosius starts campaigning against paganism, with the support of the desert monks.

 

382: St Jerome starts correcting the existing Latin-language version of the New Testament, commonly referred to as the Vetus Latina. He also begins translating portions from the Septuagint, aka the Greek Old Testament, which came from Alexandria.

 

382: Roman emperor Theodosius I issues a decree of death for all Manichaean monks. St Augustine of Hippo, educated as a Manichaean for ten years, opts to change direction and thus survives. Dalrymple observes: “After all, a theologian as intelligent as St Augustine of Hippo could spend several years as a champion of Manicheism before being won over to what we now regard as more acceptable beliefs. In the uncertain world of early Christianity it does not seem impossible that the Manichees or the Gnostics could have won the day, so that on Sundays we would now read the Gospel of Philip (which emphasises Jesus’s lustily red-blooded attachment to Mary Magdalene) and applaud the Serpent of the Garden of Eden. Churches would be dedicated not to ‘heretics’ like St John Chrysostom but rather to Manichean godlings such as the Great Nous and the Primal Man; reincarnation would be accepted without a second thought, and Messalian mucus-exorcisms would take place every Sunday after evensong.”

 

383: Evagrius settles in Nitria, a large cenobitic monastery at the desert’s edge, some 40 miles from Alexandria.

 

384: St Augustine of Hippo, a former Manichaean, becomes rhetoric professor at imperial court in Milan.

 

384 c.: John Cassian and his friend Germanus visit the desert monasteries of Scete in Egypt.

 

384:  Death of Pope Damasus I, patron of St Jerome, who is then forced to leave his position at Rome after the Roman clergy allege that he has had an improper relationship with Paula, the widow of a noble patriarch.

 

385: Theophilus starts his 27 year reign as bishop of Alexandria. At some point he ordains Dioscours, one of the Tall Brothers of Nitria, as bishop of Hermopolis (with jurisdiction over Nitria), against his will, having forcibly drawn him from his retreat. He also ordains Eusebius and Euthymius, two other Tall Brothers, as priests, employing them in administrative roles in Alexandria.

 

385: Evagrius moved from Nitria to the more remote and anchoritic monastic settlement of Kellia, where he spent the next 14 years of his life. During this time, he apprenticed in the monastic life under two of the greatest of the Desert Fathers, Macarius the Alexandrian and Macarius the Egyptian. According to Socrates, “Evagrius became a disciple of these men and acquired from them the philosophy of deeds, whereas before he knew only a philosophy of words.”  Evagrius also joined the intellectual circle of the Tall Brothers.

 

385: Etheria or Egeria, a pilgrim from Gaul, climbed Mount Sinai and visited some of the towns of Egypt.

 

386: St Augustine of Hippo hears Ponticianus and friends read the life of Anthony of the Desert and converts to Christianity.

 

388: Palladius of Galatia travels to Egypt to meet the Desert Fathers, arriving in Alexandria.

 

388: Death of Theodosius’s praetorian prefect, Cynegius, who vandalized a number of pagan shrines in the eastern provinces. Theodosius replaces him with a moderate pagan who subsequently moves to protect the temples.

 

390 c.: During his visit to Egypt, Palladius of Galatia goes to Nitria to see the monk Abba Or of Nitria, also known as Hor or Horus. Or, who dies at about this time, is regarded as “chief among monks,” and “a man who stood out among many of the fathers.” Th desert certainly produced some luminaries of early monasticism, which bears out the contention in ‘Christianizing Egypt’ that it was developed by charismatic holy men rather than an official organisational structure (as in The Church).

 

390: Commencement of The Vulgate, Jerome’s translation of the Hebrew Bible into Latin. His decision to translate from Hebrew rather than Greek was sharply criticized by Augustine, his contemporary. The Vulgate firmly establishes the texts of the four Evangelists as canonical.  Jerome also gave the order in which the texts should appear and provided the first association of each Evangelist with a living creature: Matthew – Man; Mark – Lion; Luke – Calf; John – Eagle.

 

391: Palladius of Galatia travels to Kellia in the Nitrian Desert about 40 miles south of Alexandria.

 

391: Decree bans polytheistic rites and declares that “no one is to go to the sanctuaries, [or] walk through the temples”, resulting in the abandonment of many temples throughout the Empire.

 

391: Death of Macarius the Great at Scetis. He is succeeded as Father of Scetis by his disciple St Paphnutius the Ascetic, aka Paphnutius the Hermit. The prohibition against admitting to Scetis a young monk with a face resembling a woman’s is attributed to Paphnutius.

 

391:  St Augustine of Hippo is ordained a priest in Hippo Regius (now Annaba), in Algeria, and becomes a famous preacher.

 

391: Destruction of Temple and Library of Serapeum / Serapis, a daughter of the Library of Alexandria, the most sacred site of Greco-Roman Alexandria, by imperial troops loyal to Theophilus I, Patriarch of Alexandria. See here. The destruction was another huge man-made cataclysm; the treasures from all over the known world up in smoke. However, it seems it was less a library at this point than a gathering place for Neoplatonist philosophers following the teachings of Iamblichus.

“The pagans of Alexandria were incensed by this act of desecration, especially the teachers of Neoplatonic philosophy and theurgy at the Serapeum. Its teachers took up arms and led their students and other followers in a guerrilla attack on the Christian population of Alexandria, killing many of them before being forced to retreat. In retaliation, the Christians of the city vandalized and demolished the Serapeum — although amazingly some parts of the colonnade were still standing as late as the twelfth century.”

Catherine Nixey, author of ‘The Darkening Age’ suggests it was full of perhaps 700,000 books, being perhaps the remainder of the Alexandrian Library, although others diss her book as per here.

After the destruction, the site became a monastery dedicated to St. John the Baptist, known as Angelium or Evangelium. This church fell to ruins around 600 AD, restored by Pope Isaac of Alexandria (681–684 AD), and finally destroyed in the 10th century. In the 20th century, it became a Muslim cemetery, Bāb Sidra.

In Dalyrmple’s words:

‘‘ … in Alexandria the triumph of Christianity had been effected by hordes of often fanatical Coptic monks who would periodically sweep down from their desert monasteries, attacking the pagans and their shrines, and burning any temples left undefended; in 392 A.D. they finally succeeded in burning the Serapium, and with it the adjacent Alexandrian library, storehouse of the collected learning of antiquity. The houses of the city’s pagan notables were ransacked in the monks’ search for idols; no one was safe.

394: The last known hieroglyphs are created in Egypt. Coptic monks were famous for destroying them, along with much other pre-Christian culture in Egypt.

 

394: Dioscorus, the Tall Brother, who had been made Bishop of Hermopolis by Theophilus, accompanies him to the Constantinopolitan Council.

 

394-395:  Seven Palestinian monks make a pilgrimage through Egypt between September 394 and January 395. Their experiences form the basis for a popular hagiographical text, the ‘Historia monachorum in Aegypto’, also called the Lives of the Desert Fathers. Originally written in Greek, it was soon translated into Latin by Rufinus of Aquileia, who also added material of his own.

 

395: St Augustine of Hippo made coadjutor Bishop of Hippo and became full Bishop shortly thereafter, holding the see until his death in 430. On his watch, he brings St Paul into theological fashion. His teaching of the saved Elect, predestined from the Creation, is Christianised Manichaean belief of a spiritual type of human at the top of the threefold pile, with the hylics at the bottom with no chance.  That idea of the Elect is the stuff of many doomsday cults and was taken up by Calvin in particular.  Augustine fused the idea of the Elect with Paul’s salvation through belief in Christ which became the sola fide of Protestantism, championed by Luther.  No matter how much good one does, unless one believes, there is no salvation.  Harsh and somewhat unbalanced!

 

395: Destruction of Scetis by the Mazices Berbers (or was this 407, or both) obliges John the Dwarf to relocate to Mount Colzim, near the city of Suez, where he lives a day’s journey from the cave of Anthony. John stays there for the rest of his life, during which time Sisoes took over Anthony’s cave. The monks were not necessarily killed – many may have been led off in caravans to the slave markets of North Africa and Arabic Byzantine. Others are simply taken captive and enslaved by desert nomads.

 

397-398: St Augustine of Hippo writes his autobiographical Confessions.

 

399: January: Death of Evagrius at Kellia before a storm breaks.

Theophilus in trouble with the desert monks after he publicly defended the teachings of Origen (whom opponents said denied the importance of created matter, among other things) causing a huge split among the Egyptian monks.

One source says, “The majority of the fathers (at Scetis) decreed that . . . the bishop ought to be abhorred by the entire body of the brethren as tainted with heresy of the worst kind.” In anger the monks left their monasteries and again marched to Alexandria, “where they excited a riot against the bishop . . . and threatened to put him to death.” Theophilus tried to calm the mob, saying, “When I look upon you, it is as if I beheld the face of God.” He was forced to change his views on Origen to save both his office as well as his life. [St. Jerome also started as a great admirer of Origen, but later attacked him.]

In response to the Anthropomorphic controversy, desert veterans John Cassian and Germanus journey to Alexandria to protest.

The alliance between Theophilus and the Tall Brothers breaks down when Dioscorus, Eusebius, and Euthymius, ‘disgusted at the way the church was run, and disillusioned with a bishop “devoted to gain”, resigned their posts and returned to the desert.’

Theophilus, jealous at the esteem in which they were held, mounted a campaign against them on the pretext of the harm they were causing by their support of the contested theology of Origen of Alexandria.  The violent discord that arose between Origenists and Anthropomorphites provided the opportunity to take up the anti-Origenist cause with a vengeance, and enlists the monks to help him.  He turns his sights on Kellia and Mount Nitria, where many of the monks would have been Origenists, i.e. heretics. By some accounts, Kellia had 1600 cells for 5000 monks at its peak.

Theophilus sets about persecuting its intellectual Origenist leadership, destroying their cells and condemning Isidore (a defender of Origen). Many holy recluses are seemingly put to death in a military attack, while others fled to Palestine and ‘elsewhere’.

At a local council, Theophilus excommunicates the four Tall Brothers (i.e. Ammonius, Dioscorus, Eusebius, and Euthymius). According to Norman Russell, he ‘went to Nitria and armed the monks against Dioscorus and his brothers, who nevertheless managed to make their escape.’ [4]

By another account, ‘When he visited the desert some monks wanted to kill the Tall Brothers, but they escaped into a tomb while their cells were burnt. At last they left Egypt together with St. John Cassian, St. Isidore and about eighty monks.’ (see here)

With the expulsion of the Tall Brothers, Kellia lost much of the reputation it had formerly enjoyed. The educated Greek element vanished with the victory of the Coptic Anthropomorphists. The importance of Mount Nitria began to decline, and apparently the number of monks also decreased sharply, because of the rise of other monastic centres in the area of Alexandria and Scetis.

Theophilus sowed such division in monastic communities that, as Sozomen put it, “A terrible contention prevailed among the monks, for they did not think it worthwhile to persuade one another . . . but settled down into insults.”

 

400: St Jerome, who had translated the Bible into Latin, visits Egypt en route to Jerusalem and details some of his experiences in his letters.

 

400: Palladius of Galatia ordained the bishop of Helenopolis in Bithynia, but soon becomes involved in controversies centred around St John Chrysostom and the Tall Fathers. This results in his exile by Emperor Arcadius for six years in Syene (now Aswan, southern Egypt), where he writes his biography of St. John Chrysostom.

 

400-401: According to a 2006 biography of ‘Theophilus of Alexandria’ by the theologian (i.e. not historian) Norman Russell, here, the Tall Brothers ‘immediately took their melotes [sheepskins?] and made for Palestine’, accompanied by 300 ‘Nitriotes’. Sozomen writes, ‘Dioscorus and Ammonius were accompanied hither by about eighty other monks.’

Palestine also became a no-go area when Theophilus received this synodical letter from the Council of Jerusalem following  his call (AD400) for the council at Alexandria to denounce Origenism. The following translation is by St. Jerome:

‘The following is an epitome: We have done all that you wished, and Palestine is almost wholly free from the taint of heresy. We wish that not only the Origenists, but Jews, Samaritans and heathen also, could be put down. Origenism does not exist among us. The doctrines you describe are never heard here. We anathematize those who hold such doctrines, and also those of Apollinaris, and shall not receive anyone whom you excommunicate.’

According to Schaff,  there were fifty of them, including the four “Tall Brethren,” by they time they arrived in Constantinople where they were ‘hospitably received by Chrysostom.’[5] In any case, there seems to have been a large group traveling with the Tall Bros.

Theophilus observes: ‘I have learned that certain calumniators of the true faith, named Ammonius, Eusebius, and Euthymius, filled with a fresh access of enthusiasm in behalf of the heresy, have taken ship for Constantinople, to ensnare with their deceits as many new converts as they can and to confer anew with the old companions of their impiety.’

 

401-402: On arriving in Constantinople, they appeal their case to Empress Eudoxia, wife of Emperor Arcadius (r.395–408), and especially to St John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople (c.347–407). As archbishop of Constantinople, Chrysostom has the right to settle a dispute in Alexandria. Although he is no Origenist, he feels the Tall Brothers have been wronged and makes a career ending decision to receive them and launches a fact-finding inquiry.

In his ‘Homilies on Matthew’, Chrysostom declares: “And now, should you come unto the desert of Egypt, you will see this desert become better than any paradise, and ten thousand choirs of angels in human forms, and nations of martyrs, and companies of virgins, and all the devil’s tyranny put down, while Christ’s kingdom shines forth in its brightness.” (An abbreviated version of this is that the sky with its stars is not in the brightness of the desert of Egypt with its monks.) Elsewhere he says that Egyptians feed the bodies of the Constantinopolitans with their wheat, and their hearts with their faith..

 

402: Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria, sends the elderly and well-meaning bishop Epiphanius of Salamis (Cyprus) to Constantinople, with a letter to the bishop that includes this line: “For the church of Christ “not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing” (Eph. 5:27) has with the sword of the gospel cut down the Origenist serpents crawling out of their caves, and has delivered from their deadly contagion the fruitful host of the monks of Nitria”.

At this time, Empress Eudoxia’s son took ill. She turned to Epiphanius who told her the boy would live, provided she ceased all intercourse with Dioscorus and his companions, to which she apparently replied: “If it be the will of God to take my son, His will be done. The Lord who gave me my child, can take him back again. You have not power to raise the dead, otherwise your archdeacon would not have died.”

A zealot for orthodoxy, Epiphanius seems to have argued with John Chrysostom before dying on the ship home in 403. Legend holds that John Chrysostom predicted his death.

Eudoxia did much to build Jerusalem on her watch.

 

In ‘From the Holy Mountain,’ William Dalrymple writes:

 

‘At the beginning of the fifth century, St John Chrysostom tried to stamp out the militant idol-worshippers of Lebanon by sending a task force of his monks to destroy the area’s temples. According to Theodoret, ‘Hearing that some of the inhabitants of Phoenicia were addicted to the worship of demons, John selected some ascetics who were filled with fervent zeal and sent them to destroy the idolatrous temples, inducing some ladies of great opulence to defray the monks’ expenses; and [in due course] the temples of the demons were thrown down from their very foundations.’

 

403 July: Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria, arrives in maritime Chalcedon (Kadikoy) near Constantinople on the northern shore of the Sea of Marmara to defend himself at The Synod of the Oak, a synod of the Church of Constantinople, held in a suburb called “The Oak”.  He is furious with Bishop Dioscorus, his former protégé, whom he wrote to:

“I believe that you are not aware of the order of the Canons of Nicea where they declare: ” A bishop may not judge a case beyond his boundaries’; if so (and you know it full well), drop these charges against me. For if it were necessary for me to be judged, it should be by Egyptian judges, and not here with you at the distance of a seventy-five day’s journey.”

So it took 75 days to get from Alexandria to Chalcedon.

Theophilus has a personal gripe against John Chrysostom who was appointed archbishop of Constantinople in place of Theophilus’s candidate. With 36 allies at the synod, mainly bishops from Egypt, Theophilus secures a condemnation of John Chrysostom for protecting heretics. It did not help that Chrysostom had recently likened the emperor’s wife Eudoxia to Jezebel, or that he had been denouncing imperial and clerical excess. John Chrysostom is sent into exile but temporarily reprieved due to his popularity in the city. There was apparently an earthquake the night of his initial arrest – true or subscribe mythology?! In his condemnation of the Empress, he likens her to Herodias’ wanting John the Baptist’s head on a platter.

The Tall Brothers are also condemned at the Synod. Sozomen provides the following description, which, as Michael Brabazon observes, is essentially a paean. This is an 1890 translation; Michael’s comments are in italics.

 

“When Theophilus and the other bishops met for deliberation in this place [The Oak], he judged it expedient to make no further allusion to the works of Origen [because at that time Origen had not been anathematized by the Church], and called the monks of Scetis to repentance [for what?! – Theophilus drove them into exile!], promising that there would be no recollection of wrongs nor infliction of evil. His partisans zealously seconded his efforts, and told them that they must ask Theophilus to pardon their conduct; and as all [really, ALL?!] the members of the assembly concurred in this request, the monks were troubled, and believing that it was necessary to do what they were desired by so many bishops [what about John’s supporters?], they used the words which it was their custom to use even when injured, and said spare us. ”

 

The community of Kellia splits into supporters and opponents of the council, and a second church was erected, in order to enable each group to conduct its rites separately. John Moschus, in an anecdote from the middle of the sixth century (Pratum 177, 3048), speaks of Kellia as a laura headed by a priest.

 

404: John Chrysostom is exiled and his allies, including many monks, severely suppressed. In a letter to Bishop Cyriacus, John Chrysostom writes: “When I was driven from the city, I felt no anxiety, but said to myself: If the empress wishes to banish me, let her do so; ‘the earth is the Lord’s.’ If she wants to have me sawn asunder, I have Isaiah for an example. If she wants me to be drowned in the ocean, I think of Jonah. If I am to be thrown into the fire, the three men in the furnace suffered the same. If cast before wild beasts, I remember Daniel in the lion’s den. If she wants me to be stoned, I have before me Stephen, the first martyr. If she demands my head, let her do so; John the Baptist shines before me. Naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked shall I leave this world. Paul reminds me, ‘If I still pleased men, I would not be the servant of Christ.’”

The Tall Brothers vanish from the records. There is no mention of them tagging along with St John Chrysostom. Are there any oral traditions of what happened to them afterwards? Considering they had been central to the original controversy, the fact that they “faded off into history” is curious. They are unlikely to have either recanted or, indeed, returned to Egypt.  Some refugee monks may have fled to Palestine, as the Tall Bros did before going on to Constantinople, but Palestine was not a friendly place for them either. If they returned to Egypt, surely they would have been leaders of a large section of the monastic movement?  So where did they go?  Somewhere far from their enemies, and the imperial recorders of history.

They became somewhat synonymous with Origenism.  The whole dispute crystallized in the apprehension of God.  Whereas the Origenists held that He couldn’t / shouldn’t be envisaged as an anthropomorphic entity, Theophilus et al said that such a view was heretical. Interesting that besides the one human depiction on the Caher Murphy stone, there is a noticeable absence of the religious depiction of the human form in Ireland until much later.

Various accounts suggest that two of the Tall Brothers (Dioscorus and Ammonius) died on the eve of the Oak, as did St Isidore of Nitria, another Origenist.[6] And yet other accounts say they died afterwards. Sozomen (HE 8. 17) claims that when Theophilus hears of Ammonius’s death, he ‘shed tears and said that although Ammonius had caused him much trouble, no monk could have been of higher moral character.’[7] And yet Theophilus himself had previously cited Ammonius for his ‘pre-eminence in wickedness’.

Sozomen wrote his ‘Ecclesiastical History’ (covering the years  323-425) while living in Constantinople c. 440-443, and dedicated it to Emperor Theodosius II who had succeeded his father, Arcadius in 408 but had been a joint emperor since 402.  Hence, he is going to tell his story in a manner favourable to Arcadius. However, his history appeared a few years after an earlier one by Socrates Scholasticus, also written in Constantinople,

Russell then makes an unsupported claim that Eusebius and Euthymius, the two “surviving” Tall Brothers then ‘threw themselves on Theophilus’ mercy – there was nothing else they could do in the circumstances – and there, so far as Theophilus was concerned, the matter ended. He does not seem to have borne any personal animus against them.’[8]

It’s a slight confounding that the names Euthymius and Eusebius are so repeated – Eusebius alone has all these references although I was briefly rather excited by this one – should we absolutely rule out the possibility of any of these guys being the one and the same person as our Tall Brethren. Could Euthymius have turned into Euthymius the Great, who turns up in Jerusalem in 406? Our Missing Persons file looks a lot thicker than it did …

Was there a direct Egypt to Ireland transmission with the monks of Kellia as the agents, fleeing the persecution and banishment?  If we home in on any possible links between Ireland and Egypt in the 399-405 period, all we seem to have is Pelagius and yet that is really not such a bad lead … a guy who is said to be Irish hanging out in Egypt and stirring it up … so I think a further investigation into him is required.

 

405 c.: Death of John the Dwarf on Mount Colzim.

 

405: Scetis is now the base of the seven blood-brothers of Abba Poemen the Great, including Abba Anoub and Paësius. “In contrast to the decline in importance of Mount Nitria and Kellia, Scetis flourished [becoming the main monastic centre in Lower Egypt], although it suffered three attacks in the first half of the fifth century (in 407, 434, and 444) in raids by the Mazices (MaÇíkot), barbarian tribes from the western desert. Its growth was due in great measure to the generous annual grant of wheat, oil, and other products given by Emperor Zeno to the monks of Scetis, a grant that continued until the end of the Byzantine period (Evelyn-White 1932, 224-27).”

 

406: ‘A vast horde of Germanic tribes [Visigoths] pierced the Rhine frontier at Mainz and swept like a tidal wave through Trier, Tournai, Rheims, Arras, Amiens and on towards Paris, Orleans, Tours. The army passed through Aquitaine to the Pyrenees and eastwards to Toulouse. Of the devastation left in its train, the pithiest phrase about it was “All Gaul burned like one gigantic funeral pyre.”’

 

407-408: Death in exile of John Chrysostom.

The community at Scetis, now known as Wadi El Natrun, suffers catastrophic attack when the Mazices Berbers “came sweeping off the Libyan desert” causing many notable Desert Fathers to leave the region. The monks were not necessarily killed – many may have been led off in caravans to the slave markets of North Africa and Arabic byzantine. Either way, there must have been a lot of homeless monks …

The seven brothers move to the ancient city of Terenuthis (modern day Al-Tarrānah in the Western Delta), Lower Egypt, where Abba Anoub assumes leadership of the new monastic settlement. The Seven Coptic Monks at Dundesert sound like they’d have been decent dance partners for Abba Anoub and the other six blood-brothers of Poemen?  What of the Nile-side city of Terenuthis  where they ended up… did Ireland got the word ‘Tir’ for land from the Roman ‘terra’?

 

409: Constantine III withdraws virtually the entire Roman army from Britain in order to fight the barbarians who had recently entered the Roman Empire, penetrated Spain, as well as to take control of the western half of the empire. The Roman villas are gradually abandoned, and many of their owners either enslaved or murdered, unless they flee. In a time of such intense violence, who knows how many bodies piled up in Ireland before the church managed to establish some semblance of peace… St Patrick was supposedly abducted and forced into slavery in Ireland for seven years at this time.

 

410: Sack of Rome by the Visigoths – Western Empire on the back foot from the late 300s (Huns to the north), it was not a good place to seek sanctuary.

The theologian Pelagius, thought to be Irish, flees from Rome to Carthage in present-day Tunisia, where he and his principal disciple Celestius (or Caelestius) advanced their knowledge of ascetism and enjoyed some success promoting their views. His enmity with Augustine deepened during this time. He then went to Palestine where he met St Jerome (c. 347-c.420), famed for his Latin translation of the Bible, the Vulgate. Jerome would later denounce Pelagius’s work in some of his letters.

 

410: Scetis suffers another brutal attack; its surviving monks scatter.

 

410: Saint Honoratus, a disciple of a local hermit named Caprasius of Lérins, is said to have founded the monastery of Lérins on the island of Saint-Honorat, on the French Riviera. Tradition states that Saint Patrick studied here.

 

412: Death of Theophilus, bishop of Alexandria since 385. His nephew Cyril succeeds to the Alexandrian bishopric and goes all out to continue the campaign against heretics, Jews, and pagans in Egypt. Among works by Cyril is a Commentary on the Gospel of John in which he rejects the conjecture (hyponoia) of ‘certain men’ (tines) that John the Baptist was an angel, sent by God, who took a human body. See here.

 

414: Cyril expels the Jews from Alexandria in response (according to contemporary Christian historian Socrates Scholasticus) to a Jewish-led massacre of some Christians in the city but the jury’s out as to who attacked who. [MB wonders whether the Jews of Ethiopia, the Falashas, are mixed race descendants of Alexandran Jews?  Maybe they gave Ethiopian Christianity the Jewish ‘flavour’ for which it’s known?]

 

415: Pelagius and Celestius are both accused of heresy by the synods of Diospolis and Jerusalem and two African councils the following year. Pelagius appeals to Pope Innocent I and while he was initially able to acquit himself, he was then excommunicated. The councils also sought to try him for heresy, but both failed on some sort of legal ground.

 

415: Cyril forms alliance with Shenouda, the powerful abbot of the Great White Monastery in Atripe, Egypt.

 

415: Murder of Hypatia, one of the last great pagan philosophers of Alexandria, a neo-platonist, astronomer, and mathematician, after Patriarch Cyril incites a mob against her. Her murder signifies the end of Alexandria as a city where diverse opinions and philosophies are welcome to one where only the State-sanctioned version was considered acceptable. (Dalrymple: “The most notorious outrage was the lynching of Hypatia, a neoplatonic philosopher of the School of Alexandria and a brilliant thinker and mathematician. She was pulled from her palanquin by a lynch-mob of monks, who stripped her, then dragged her naked through the streets of the town before finally killing her in front of the Caesarion and burning her body. This murder was applauded by the monastic chroniclers. ‘Hypatia was devoted to her magic, astrolabes, and instruments of music,’ wrote Bishop John of Nikiu. ‘She beguiled many people through her satanic wiles. [After her murder all the people surrounded the patriarch Cyril, [who had instigated the mob] called him “the new Theophilus” for he had [completed the work of Patriarch Theophilus who had burned the Serapium and] destroyed the last remains of idolatry in the city?’ The pagans, understandably, were less enthusiastic: Things have happened the like of which haven’t been seen through all the ages,’ wrote one distraught student to his mother in Upper Egypt. Now it’s cannibalism, not war.’ “If we are alive,’ commented another, ‘then life itself is dead.’ Nevertheless, there are hints that the intellectual spirit in the city had not died completely. According to Moschos’s near-contemporary, the historian Ammianus Marcellinus, ‘even now in that city the various branches of learning make their voices heard; for the teachers of the arts are somehow still alive …’”)

 

415: Armed with his knowledge of Egyptian monasticism, St John Cassian founds the Abbey of Saint-Victor in Marseille. The influence of the desert will also seemingly come via Ireland to the monastery of Lérins in the Mediterranean

 

418 May 1st: Augustine of Hippo summons a minor synod known as the Council of Africa, which assembled under the presidency of his friend Aurelius, bishop of Carthage. The synod denounces the Pelagian doctrines of human nature, original sin, grace, and perfectibility; and gives its whole-hearted support to Augustine’s views. The conclusions of the council were reluctantly confirmed by Pope Zosimus in his ‘Epistula tractoria,’ after which both Pelagius and Celestius are condemned as heretics for their defence of free will and the goodness of human nature.

 

419, c.: Pelagius is expelled from both Jerusalem and Palestine by order of Emperor Honorius. After a short stint in Antioch, he made his way to Egypt. He died sometime before 427, place unknown. Could it be possible that he sailed west between 418 and 427, returning to his Irish homeland with sufficient strength to establish some form of Christianity?  Did Celestius perhaps travel with him?

 

419 c.: Palladius of Galatia, a devoted disciple of St John Chrysostom, is commissioned by Lausus, chamberlain at the court of the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II, to write ‘Lausiac History – The Lives of the Friends of God,’ a seminal archive of the Desert Fathers. Originally written in Greek, it proves so popular that it is soon translated into Arabic, Armenian, Coptic, Geʽez, Latin, Syriac and Sogdian.

 

420: Death in Bethlehem of St Jerome.

 

428: April 10 – Nestorius becomes Patriarch of Constantinople. He controversially asserts that Christ had two quite distinct divine and human persons, as opposed to the Orthodox position that the incarnate Christ was a single person, at once God and man. Dalrymple describes him as ‘one of the most reviled heretics in Byzantine history’.

 

430 Aug 28: Death of Augustine of Hippo, shortly after the Vandals, a Germanic tribe that had converted to Arianism, invade Roman Africa and besiege Hippo.

 

431: Council of Ephesus meets on 22 June, the eve of St John’s Eve, but perhaps the eve itself with calendar switch!? The council condemns the teachings of Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, who is banished to the Great Oasis, modern Kharga. They also condemn the doctrine of Pelagianism for denying that original sin changed human nature and proposing that humans were capable of moral perfection.

 

431: Prosper of Aquitaine states in a chronicle entry: “Ad Scotum in Christum credentes ordinatur a Papa Celestino Palladius et primus episcopus mittitur”.  Translated as “To the Irish believing in Christ Pope Celestine sends Palladius as the first Bishop”.

Thinking about that oh-so-complicated word Scot, it is interesting that Palladius is specifically sent to Ireland by Pope Celestine I to serve ‘as first bishop to the Scotti believing in Christ’.  Also, 431 is a very specific date for Palladius short mission to Ireland. His remit was to ‘Romanise’ a pre-existing Pelagian community in Ireland. Palladius was in Ireland less than a year before he gave up.

 

432 Aug 1: Death of Pope Celestine.

 

434: Raid on Scetis by Mazices Berbers, tribesmen from Libya, compels a Desert Father variously known as Arsenius the Deacon, Arsenius of Scetis and Turah, Arsenius the Roman or Arsenius the Great to relocated to Troe (near Memphis), Egypt. He also spent some time on the island of Canopus (off Alexandria). He spent the next fifteen years wandering the desert wilderness before returning to Troe to die reputedly at the age of 95.

 

444: Raid on Scetis. Death of Cyril.

 

449: The Gangster Synod! A violent meeting called the Second Council of Ephesus, but never officially approved, which amounted to a showdown between Constantinople / Alexandria vs. Antioch/Rome. See here.

 

450: Alleged death year of Abba Poemen the Great, formerly of Scetis.

 

451: The Coptic, Syrian and Armenian Churches all separated from the Christian Orthodox community of the Byzantine mainstream after they refuse to accept the theological decisions of the Council of Chalcedon. They objected to the council’s declaration of hersey on monophysitism, the belief that there is only one divine nature in the person of Christ (as opposed to the Orthodox position that Christ has a double nature, at once human and divine). As Dalrymple puts it on p. 91:

“The divorce took place … along an already established linguistic fault-line, separating the Greek-speaking Byzantines of western Anatolia from those to the east who still spoke Aramaic, the language of Christ. Severely persecuted as heretical Monophysites by the Byzantine Emperors, the Syrian Orthodox Church hierarchy retreated into the inaccessible shelter of the barren hills of the Tur Abdin. There, far from the centres of power, three hundred Syrian Orthodox monasteries successfully maintained the ancient Antiochene liturgies in the original Aramaic. But remoteness led to marginalisation, and the Church steadily dwindled both in numbers and in importance.”

 

451: Atilla the Hun crosses the Rhine and marches as far as Aurelianum (Orléans), before being stopped in the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains. He subsequently invades Italy, devastating the northern provinces, but is unable to take Rome and dies in 453.

 

457: St Elias banished from Egypt and heads to Palestine, where he was elected patriarch of Jerusalem. Both he and St Flavian, the patriarch of Antioch, were exiled for their opposition to Monophysism.

 

459: Death of Simeon Stylites or Symeon the Stylite, a Syrian Christian ascetic and opponent of the Council of Chalcedon. He achieved fame by spending 37 years living on a small platform on top of a pillar near Aleppo (in modern Syria). A 6th-century depiction of him on his column features a scallop shell symbolizing spiritual purity and a serpent representing demonic temptations.

 

476: Romulus Augustulus, the last Roman emperor in the west, is deposed. The Roman Empire in the west also ceases to exist.

 

485: Severus the Great of Antioch (later the Patriarch of Antioch, and head of the Syriac Orthodox Church), then a young man, travels to Alexandria i to study grammar, rhetoric, and philosophy, in both Greek and Latin. At Alexandria, he meets Zacharias of Mytilene, a fellow student and friend. As William Dalrymple recalls: ‘The two friends began their secondary studies in Alexandria, where Zacharias comments with a shudder on the number of professors involved in occult activities: many of the senior members of the faculty were apparently in the habit of secretly visiting a clandestine temple of Menuthis packed full of wooden idols of cats, dogs and monkeys. At Beirut, where the pair went to finish their legal studies sometime in the 480s, things were little better. Though there appeared to be fewer pagans around than in Alexandria, the rich students indulged in all manner of pleasures repugnant to a puritanical Christian like Zacharias: there was a theatre and a circus, while in the evening there were dice games and drinking with dancing girls and prostitutes.’

 

515: Relics of John the Dwarf moved to the Nitrian Desert.

 

529: St Benedict founds the Benedictine Order on the model of St Pachomius, although in a stricter form. Saint Benedict introduced new vow of stability, which differed to the Coptic tradition of wandering from seer to seer, guru to guru, gathering wisdom and spiritual insights – was this the apa / abbot?!

 

529:  The Samaritans launched what is sometimes referred as the final Samaritan revolt to create their own independent state, initiating a large scale slaughter of Christians and destruction of churches. Emperor Justinian sends in an army commanded by a monk named Photion [sic], who ruthlessly suppresses them with a death-toll possibly being between 20,000 and 100,000.

 

536: Volcanic winter, caused by at least three simultaneous eruptions of uncertain origin, produces the most severe and protracted episode of climatic cooling in the Northern Hemisphere in the last 2,000 years. This is sometimes said to be the worst year to have been alive.

 

541: “Justinianic Plague”, a pandemic of bubonic plague, devastates the Late Roman or Byzantine Empire.

 

551: An earthquake fells much of Beirut; the city was in decline but still had the vestiges of the silk, purple dye and olive oil industry that made it prosperous, as well as being a city of choice for rich men to send their sons to study law.

 

553: Council of Constantinople opts to omit the doctrine of reincarnation from the Bible. Both the Essenes and early Christians had believed in reincarnation and the after-life.

 

578: John Moschus goes to Egypt. Dalrymple recounts a ‘macabre’ tale told by Moschus of a blind man who had once been a grave-robber. “One day he saw a richly-decked-out corpse being taken through the streets of Alexandria for burial in the Church of St John, and he had made up his mind to plunder the grave. When the funeral had finished, the man broke into the sepulchre and began to strip the tomb. Suddenly he gave a start: the dead man appeared to sit up before him and stretch out his hands towards the grave-robber’s eyes. It was the last thing, said the blind man, that he ever saw.”

So, there was a Church of St John in Alexandria in Moschos’s day.

 

C6th: Gregory of Tours (538-594) tells how contemporary travellers claim Egypt was ‘filled with monasteries’.

 

C6th: One of the earliest illustrations of St. John’s martyrdom in a manuscript appears in the Codex Sinopensis (Sinope Gospels), produced on red vellum, possibly in Syria, Byzantine Palestine or Constantinople. The codex may be related to the Rossano Gospels, a Byzantine manuscript now housed at the Museo Diocesano in Rossano, Italy. See here for more.

 

606: John the Merciful begins his 10 year term as the Chalcedonian / Melkite Patriarch of Alexandria. The patron of the Order of St. John of the Hospital, he was married with children. His life story, written by his friend and contemporary Leontius bishop of Neapolis in Cyprus, describes one of the earliest written connections between Britain and Egypt:

He immediately ordered that one of the ships belonging to the Holy Church of which he was head should be handed over to the captain, a swift sailer laden with twenty thousand bushels of corn. … Then after the twentieth day we caught sight of the islands of Britain, and when we had landed we found a great famine raging there Accordingly when we told the chief man of the town that we were laden with corn, he said, “God has brought you at the right moment. Choose as you wish, either one ‘nomisma’ for each bushel or a return freight of tin”. And we chose half of each.’ … ‘Then we set sail again,’ said the captain, ‘and joyfully made once more for Alexandria, putting in on our way at Pentapolis.’* The captain then took out some of the tin to sell-for he had an old business-friend there who asked for some-and he gave him a bag of about fifty pounds. The latter, wishing to sample it to see if it was of good quality, poured some into a brazier and found that it was silver of the finest quality. … The captain was dumbfounded by his words and replied: ‘Believe me, I thought it was tin! But if He who turned the water into wine has turned my tin into silver in answer to the Patriarch’s prayers, that is nothing strange. However, that you may be satisfied, come down to the ship with me and look at the rest of the mass from which I gave you some.’ So they went and discovered that the tin had been turned into the finest silver.’

 

614: Sasanians from Persia, assisted by between 20,000 and 26,000 Jewish rebels, conquer Byzantine Jerusalem. Death and destruction are widespread.

 

620: Alexandria trashed so badly that barely a wall of the old city survives. As Dalrymple observes: “Like Alexandria, its traditional rival, Byzantine Antioch is now just a city of memory, forgotten but for the conjecture of scholars.”

 

638: Emperor Heraclius proposes Monothelite as a compromise definition of the nature of Christ, in an attempt to end the split between Orthodox and Monophysites which was then threatening to destroy his Empire.

 

642: Alexandria captured by the Muslim army of Amr ibn al-As during Arab / Islamic conquest of Egypt, 639-646. As Dalrymple observes, the evolution from pagan classical to Byzantine Christian, and the later change from Christian to Islam, ‘was a far more gradual process than the traditional counts of violent change and invasion would allow. In the Middle East, the reality of continuity has always been masked by a surface impression of cataclysm.’

 

664-665: Yellow Plague (Buidhe Connail) rips through Ireland and kills a bunch of saints, right on eve of Whitby …According to the Annals of the Four Masters entry for 664:

A great mortality prevailed in Ireland this year, which was called the Buidhe Connail, and the following number of the saints of Ireland died of it: St. Feichin, Abbot of Fobhar, on the 14th of February; St. Ronan, son of Bearach; St. Aileran the Wise; St. Cronan, son of Silne; St. Manchan, of Liath; St. Ultan Mac hUi Cunga, Abbot of Cluain Iraird Clonard; Colman Cas, Abbot of Cluain Mic Nois; and Cummine, Abbot of Cluain Mic Nois.
After Diarmaid and Blathmac, the two sons of Aedh Slaine, had been eight years in the sovereignty of Ireland, they died of the same plague.
There died also Maelbreasail, son of Maelduin, and Cu Gan Mathair, King of Munster; Aenghus Uladh.There died very many ecclesiastics and laics in Ireland of this mortality besides these.

Percentage-wise of a small population, it must have seemed like the end times.  Maybe living in monastic communities didn’t help? They would have seen the plague as some kind of divine warning.

664: May 1: Solar eclipse. July 14: Death of Eorcenberht, king of Kent, and Deusdedit, Archbishop of Canterbury, probably of plague (although Deusdedit’s death may have been 28 July). As Deusdedit is not mentioned at the Synod of Whitby, this is assumed to have taken place after his death. Alcfrith, the sub-king of Deira (a son of King Oswiu of Northumbria, and nephew of St Oswald), disappears from the historical record after Whitby. Michael Brabazon has postulated that Alcfrith was the father of St Gerald (Geralt) of Mayo, see here.

Colman resigned as Bishop of Lindisfarne after the Synod of Whitby, summoned by King Oswiu, at which it was decreed that Easter should be calculated using the method of the First Ecumenical Council rather than the preferred Celtic method. Colman then apparently retired the island of Inishbofin in Galway.

680: St Adomnan or Adamnan, the Abbot of Iona, writes De Locis Sanctis ‘On Holy Places’ in which he draws upon the recollections of a Frankish Bishop named Arculf. While stranded in the north of Scotland after a shipwreck, Arculf told Adomnan of his recent journey to places such as Egypt, Rome, Constantinople and the Holy Land.

 

688-690s: The earliest sources for St Patrick appear, namely Tírechán’s Collectanea and Muirchú’s Vita sancti Patricii, both in The Book of Armagh.

 

726-729: After an apparently successful attempt to enforce the baptism of all Jews and Montanists in his empire (722), the Byzantine Emperor Leo III the Isaurian (717-741) issued a series of edicts against the veneration of images. This leads to the destruction of all humanised monuments across the empire.

 

870: Dumbarton Rock, the central base of the Brythonic kingdom of Alt Clut, is captured and sacked by Norse-Gaels from the kingdom of Dublin after a four-month siege. The kingdom relocates to religious centre of Govan, the earliest known Christian site in the region

 

918:  The earliest mention of the name Mael Eoin in the Annals: ‘Mael Eóin, superior and bishop of Ros Cré, and Éicnech, superior of Ára Airthir, died.’

 

1073-1085: Papacy of Gregory VII, aka Hildebrand, who leads major reform, redefining Canon Law, revolutionising what the church stands for and getting kings to swear oaths to him, including Henry IV, the Holy Roman Emperor.

 

1198-1216: Hugely influential papacy of Innocent III, who directs crusades against Muslim Iberia and the Holy Land, including the Fourth Crusade of 1202–1204, which ended in the sack of Constantinople. With the assassination of the papal legates Peter of Castelnau in 1208, he also initiated the Albigensian Crusade against Raymond of Toulouse in southern France. That year he also excommunicated King John. Innocent III was the first pope to call himself ‘the Vicar of Christ’ and viewed himself as: “Verily the representative of Christ, the successor of Peter, the anointed of the Lord, the God of Pharaoh set midway between God and man, below God but above man, less than God but more than man, judging all other men, but himself judged by none.”

 

1102: The Council of London convened by Anselm of Canterbury obtained a resolution against the slave trade in England which was aimed mainly at the sale of English slaves to the Irish.

 

1348: Edward III makes St George the patron of the Knights of the Garter. At about this, George replaces Edward the Confessor as England’s national saint.

 

1545-63: The Council of Trent, held by the Roman Catholic Church in response to the Protestant Reformation, authorizes the Vulgate as its official Latin translation of the Bible.

 

1640s: St Patrick is elevated in prominence by Luke Wadding in Rome.

 

NB: Michael’s point from Christianizing Egypt that it was developed by charismatic holy men rather than an official organisational structure (as in The Church).  I think it’s that clash of charismatic monasticism and Roman clerical hierarchical officialdom that is at the root of the myth of St Pat.  That tradition is evident in the Synod of Whitby with the adherents of the charismatic authority of Colm Cille clashing with the power of the Roman establishment in Canterbury.  The Church is forever nervous/wary about charismatics: St Francis cleverly won over the Pope by saying his mission to the poor would keep them connected to the Church.  Others weren’t as clever/fortunate!

 

End -Notes

 

[1] Tacitus writes, in relation to the persecution of Jews by Nero: ‘But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind.’

[2] The full text from Dalrymple reads:

‘It was all very curious: Orthodox priests merrily slaughtering sheep, and doing so in homage to St George. Not the way, perhaps, that the Knights of the Garter might expect their patron saint to be venerated. After all, the English have always liked to believe that they have something of a monopoly on St George. If the Victorians had no qualms about proclaiming that God was an Englishman, then few had any doubts at all about claiming for Ensland the country’s own patron saint. What English schoolboy did not know the battlecry ‘God for Harry, England, and St George’? Did the saint’s body not lie in Windsor Castle?
Was not his flag the national banner, the linchpin of the Union Jack?
However, no one can travel for very long around the Middle East, particularly among the Christian Arabs, without quickly realising that the English are not the only people to claim St George as their own. The English may fondly believe that they have got their patron saint safely stashed away in St George’s Chapel in Windsor, but this will come as news to the nine monasteries on Mount Athos, the thirty-five other churches in Greece, the twenty-four churches and monasteries on Crete and the Greek islands, the six churches on Cyprus, the fifteen churches in Egypt, the five churches in Israel and the West Bank, the citadel in Aleppo and the two monasteries in northern Iraq which also claim the honour of possessing part or all of the ubiquitous and clearly many-boned St George.
In fact the veneration of St George originated in the Byzantine Levant and did not become popular in England until returning Crusaders brought the saint’s cult back with them. In 1348 Edward III made St George the patron of the Knights of the Garter, and it was around this time that George seems to have replaced Edward the Confessor as England’s national saint.
Although most scholars now tend to accept that St George probably was a historical figure, solid facts about England’s patron saint are hard to come by. He appears to have been a Christian legionary from Palestine who was martyred for refusing to worship the old pagan gods, probably during the reign of Diocletian (284-305 A.D.). He may or may not have been the unnamed martyr mentioned as suffering a particularly horrible death in the eighth book of Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History, but what is clear is that his cult was a very early one, and that it originated in Lydda, now the Tel Aviv suburb of Lod, the Heathrow of the Holy Land, directly under the flightpath of jets heading into Ben Gurion Airport. Nothing else can be said with certainty; already in the sixth century St George was referred to as ‘that Good Man whose deeds are known to God alone’.
But lack of facts never stopped medieval hagiographers from assembling impressively detailed saints’ Lives, and the cult of St George spread with astonishing speed, gathering odd stories and enveloping pagan legends as it went. By the time of Jacobus da Voragine’s The Golden Legend, written in Genoa around 1260, St George’s life-story had become one of the longest epics in medieval hagiography, revolving around the dragon whose breath could ‘poison everyone who came within reach’.

[3] From the fifth century, the term “hegoumenos of Shîhêt” appears in the Coptic sources. This title was prevalent mainly in the sixth and seventh centuries.

[4] Norman Russell, Theophilus Of Alexandria – The Early Church Fathers, Routledge, 2007, p. 27.

[5] Schaff’s Church History, III. 698 sqq., Chapter VIII.

[6] Sozomen HE 8.17 (Sozomen’s Ecclesiastical History Book 8, chapter 17) states that both Dioscorus and Amonius died before the Council/Synod, but this is the only source for their demise.  Ref Eusebius and Euthymius throwing themselves on Theophilus’ mercy, there is no mention.

[7] Elm, Susanna (1998) ‘The Dog That Did Not Bark: Doctrine and patriarchal
authority in the conflict between Theophilus of Alexandria and John
Chrysostom of Constantinople’, in Lewis Ayres and Gareth Jones (eds),
Christian Origins: Theology, Rhetoric and Community, London and New York:
Routledge, 68–93.

[8] Ref Eusebius and Euthymius throwing themselves on Theophilus’ mercy, Russell gives Sozomen (HE 8. 17) as the source but there is no such mention in Sozomen.