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Evidence of early Christian presence in Roman London

A piece of broken pottery, newly identified 40 years after it was found as important evidence of an early Christian community in Roman London, is going on display for the first time at the Museum of London, over the Easter weekend.

Evidence of early Christian presence in Roman London
A volunteer spotted the shard while sorting through hundreds of pieces 
of broken pottery found in the 1970s [Credit: Museum of London]
A sharp-eyed volunteer, sorting through hundreds of pieces of pottery shards found in the 1970s in an excavation on Brentford High Street, west London, noticed one fragment inscribed with the chi rho, the first two letters of Christ in the Greek alphabet, which was a common symbol in the early Christian church.

The pottery was made in Oxfordshire in the 4th century, rather than imported, so the symbol suggests a very early Thames-side Christian community.

Adam Corsini, the archaeology collections manager, said it was a very rare find. “Although we can’t say from one object that Roman London and its hinterland were practising Christianity, it does suggest that Christians were at least present at some point in 4th-century Roman Brentford.

“Christian symbols from the Roman period are rare, especially from sites within Londinium’s surrounding hinterland, and there are only a few examples in our collections relating to London.”

Although Brentford is now a nondescript suburb, carved up by main roads and scattered with tower blocks, it has a long and distinguished history. From prehistoric times it was an important river crossing, where the Thames could be forded at low tide. The museum has a wealth of material from Brentford, including beautiful bronze age metalwork believed to have been thrown into the river as ritual offerings.

There was a Roman settlement, and possibly an even earlier encounter with the invaders. A large pillar made from recycled stone was erected by an amateur historian in 1909, recording the belief that the local tribesmen fought Julius Caesar there in 54BC. Although historians doubt the story, the pillar still stands, though it has been moved from its original riverside site. There is better evidence for the battle in 1016 between King Canute and Edmund Ironside, which the pillar also marks.

Author: Maev Kennedy | Source: The Guardian [March 24, 2016]

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