EVIDENCE that suggests Christianity was practised in Britain as
early as the third century has been unearthed in a Roman fort in
A silver ring, set with a carnelian stone carved with the early
Christian symbol of an anchor and two fishes, was discovered during
an excavation at Binchester, near Bishop Auckland.
The project co-ordinator, Dr David Petts, a lecturer in
archaeology at Durham University, said on Monday that the design of
the ring dated it to the third century, which was significant,
because that was before the Emperor Constantine legitimised
Christianity in 313.
"Along with a very similar ring, and a roof tile bearing the
chi-rho symbol, both of which were found in York, it is the
earliest evidence we have for Christianity in Roman Britain," he
said. During that early period, the Church was keeping a low
profile, so there were not many distinctive objects in existence,
"Christianity went through phases: on some occasions, it was
just ignored; but, on others, there were persecutions." In Rome
there might be plenty of artefacts; but "out here, at the edge of
Empire, it is hard to find things that are distinctively
Christian." This was why the ring was so important.
Since it was a valuable item, the ring was likely to have been
owned by someone of status. Because it was found in the fort, the
owner may have been an officer.
The Roman unit at Binchester was originally a Spanish cavalry
regiment, "but they would have become Anglicised over time. Also,
as Binchester was on the main road from York to Hadrian's Wall, it
would have had a constant flow of people passing through - as mucha
motorway service-station as a fort."
Dr Petts hopes that the ring will eventually go on show to the
public in a museum in County Durham.
The Binchester site where the ring was found has been called the
"Pompeii of the north", owing to the discovery of an exceptionally
well-preserved bathhouse in the civilian settlement around the
fort. Its walls, which were once covered with bright painted
designs, stand more than seven feet tall, and it still has its
original floor, doorways, and window openings.
Dr Petts said that it had survived because locals had used it as
a dump in the 300 years after the Romans' departure. Tons of
domestic rubbish propped up the masonry.
"There are perhaps only three or four other buildings in Roman
Britain which have that quality of preservation," Dr Petts said.
"It's very rare to have walls standing to head height. It's more
like study-ing a historic building thanlike digging at an