The Real Story of King Arthur (Part 2)

Now I will describe what happened in detail, with moredates.

Caerleon was the largest, most powerful and richest of the 4 major cities in Roman Britain. It had a permanently stationed legion (Legio II Augusta) that was based there for more than 300 years from 75 A.D. until 382 A.D., when Caerleon's governor, who was a Spaniard named Magnus Maximus, proclaimed himself as the Western Roman Emperor and then withdrew the bulk of the legion in order to defeat the incumbent Gratianus in Gaul (present-day France). The other 3 major Roman citiesin Britain were York, Chester and London (London did not have its own dedicated legion but a powerful navy instead). The next governor in Caerleonquickly brought the skeleton force that remained there up to full strength with retired officers and local recruits. The new legion proved itselfto be a powerful army exactly 100 years later (see below).

Caerleon was also the main centre of pilgrimage in Roman Britain from 313 A.D. onwards until 700 A.D. Constantine had decreed with his Edict of Milan in 313 A.D. that the Christian religion could be practised freely throughout the empire; thereby ending the persecution of Christians which Diocletian had begun in 304 A.D.(Diocletian committed suicide in 308 A.D. but the persecution continued unabated nevertheless). It was during the first year of this persecution that two inhabitants of Caerleon, namely Saint Aaron (a Welshman and honorary Roman citizen who had been baptized with this biblical name when an adult) and Saint Julius (a Roman by birth with this typically Latin name) were executed by decapitation in Caerleon's amphitheatre in 304 A.D. Incidentally, a Roman soldier called Saint Alban was decapitated in the same year and for the same reason in another amphitheatre north of London; after which the small local town was renamed in remembrance of him.

The Christian citizens of Roman Caerleon immediately reorganized themselves following Constantine's decree and they built the Cathedral of Saint Aaron with a monastery attached to it, as well as the Basilica Madre ('mother church') of Saint Julius with its associated convent as soon as possible, in order to house the shrines containing the mortal remains of Saint Aaron and Saint Julius respectively. I estimate as an architect that it took them between 5 and 10 years to build these two churches in brickwork or stone masonry, i.e., they had both been consecrated by roughly 325 A.D. Caerleonwas already a very prosperous capital citydue to its exports of tin products and other merchandise before its wealthincreased considerably because ofgenerous donations from the constant streams of pilgrims,to such an extent that one Welsh text referred to the roofs of these two holy buildings as beinggilded!

Let's jump forward in time by two entire centuriesto 526 A.D. Saint Gildas, who was a prominent priest in Caerleon, delivered a superbly eloquent Latin sermon that he entitled 'De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae' meaning the 'Ruin(ation) and Conquest of Britain' in Saint Aaron's Cathedral, in which he criticized the deteriorating social situation - including some corrupt clergy and bickering petty kings,among others - and he especially targeted Caerleon's vicious and inept governor of histime, namely Aurelius, by calling him "the lion's whelp", which was a sarcastic jibe and a comparative reference tohis grandfather Ambrosius Aurelianus, whom Gildas also described admiringly as "the Last of the Romans". Ambrosius was the great governor who had led the reconstituted legion from Caerleon to Mons Badonicus (Cadbury Hill, which is 2 miles from the present village of Sparkford in central Somerset) to fight aSaxon army which was besieging that strategic fortress and the town within its walls. Ambrosius won the battle and his cavalry contributed greatly to routing the Saxons: they did not return for another 55 years! That momentous event happened in 482 A.D., which was the same year as when Saint Gildas was born, as he actually mentions in his sermon and he also says meticulously that "I am composing this sermon in the 44th year of my life with one month now expired".

Well then, Saint Gildas' sermon incensed Aurelius so much that this evil governor decided to execute him for treason. Gildas was saved by the Arch-Bishop of Caerleon and Wales, namely Saint Dubricius, who immediately sent him on a spurious mission to Ireland, where the Christian faith was apparently flagging following Saint Patrick's evangelization of the Irish.

Incidentally, the record about Saint Patrick needs to be set straight at this juncture. He was a Welshmannot an Irishman and he spent most of his life converting the Irish to Christianityfrom the age of about 30 until he died there in 493 A.D. when he was 92.The so-called Irish Annals state that "the relics of Saint Patrick were placed sixty years after his death in a shrine by Colum Cille" in 553 A.D. (Cille was an Irish abbot from County Derry, who is reputed to have evangelized the Scots). Unfortunately, the location of that shrine, which was probably built within a church, is unknown nowadays. Although Saint Patrick died in his own church, which was a former barn that his first important convert King Dichu gave to him as his religious base, he was buried "where the oxen pulling the cart carrying his body shall stop" on the top of Dun Lethglaise, which was a Celtic fort on the presently called Hill of Down, near a town that was then named after him as Dun Padraig ('Patrick's stronghold') in the Irish language and it is now known as Downpatrick.

"Patrick", as the world knows him, was a Romano-Briton who was born with the name of Maewen Suchat in 401 A.D. (his parents had married in the previous year). He was the eldest son of a prominent civil and military leader called Calpurnius, who was the head of the family (paterfamilias in Latin) at his villa called Banna Venta Burniae, which means "meeting place of the Burniae (a Welsh sub-tribe) near the bluff" in the north of present-day Glamorgan. (The Latin word of 'villa' referred a mansion with its own agricultural estate and a dependent village in the vicinity). The town that developed from the village over the centuries is called Banwen nowadays and the feast day of Saint Padraeg (he was renamed when converting to Christianity as an adult at the age of about 22) is still celebrated there every year. Sadly, the remains of his family home have never been found, which could be due to the fact that the land around Banwen was churned up during the industrial revolution when it became a centre of the Welsh iron and coal industry. However, I believe that the villa was located quite a long way from the present town: that is to say, very "near the bluff". That theory remains to be proved of course.

Only two of Patrick's numerouslettershave survived andboth of them were writtenin Latin. Therefore, Patrick always referred to himself as Patricius in them. These lettersare theauto-biographical 'Declaration' (Confessio in Latin)- which is enthralling to read - and the 'Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus' (Epistola in Latin), which is adevastating tyrade against Coroticus.Patrick wrote thissecond letter around 450 A.D. after he had already spent many years in Ireland on his Christian mission. Coroticusis the name that Patrick used in Latin for a heathen Irish warlord and cruel landowner who regarded Patrick and his evangelizing activities as undermining his own power.Patrick's letter chastized him and his soldiers(we would simply call them thugs!) for murdering or enslaving many of the Irish whom Patrick had already converted to Christianity and he demanded their liberty.Whether Coroticus heeded Patrick's advice is unknown but highly unlikely!By the way, Patrick's command of the Latin language was far inferior to that of Saint Gildas.

To be continued...