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Saint Lucius of Britain
Died 2nd century
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Major shrine cathedral of Chur
Feast 3 December
Patronage Liechtenstein; Diocese of Vaduz; Diocese of Chur

Saint Lucius is a legendary 2nd-century King of the Britons traditionally credited with introducing Christianity into Britain. Lucius is first mentioned in a 6th-century version of the Liber Pontificalis, which says that he sent a letter to Pope Eleuterus asking to be made a Christian. The story became widespread after it was repeated by Bede, who added the detail that after Eleuterus granted Lucius' request, the Britons followed their king in conversion and maintained the Christian faith until the Diocletianic Persecution of 303. Later writers expanded the legend, giving accounts of missionary activity under Lucius and attributing to him the foundation of certain churches.[1]

There is no contemporary evidence for a king of this name, and modern scholars believe that his appearance in the Liber Pontificalis is the result of a scribal error.[1] However, for centuries the story of this "first Christian king" was widely believed, especially in Britain, where it was considered an accurate account of Christianity among the early Britons. During the English Reformation, the Lucius story was used in polemics by both Catholics and Protestants; Catholics considered it evidence of papal supremacy from a very early date, while Protestants used it to bolster claims of the primacy of a British national church founded by the crown.[2]

Contents

Sources

The first mention of Lucius and his letter to Eleuterus is in the Catalogus Felicianus, a version of the Liber Pontificalis created in the 6th century.[1] Why the story appears there has been a matter of debate. In 1868 Arthur West Haddan and William Stubbs suggested that it might have been pious fiction invented to support the efforts of missionaries in Britain in the time of Saint Patrick and Palladius.[3] However, modern scholars follow the argument first proposed by Adolf von Harnack in 1904 that sees the story as a deriving from a scribal error substituting Britanio, referring to Britannia, for Britio, referring to Birtha or Britium in what is now Turkey. In 179 Birtha was ruled by the Christian-friendly Roman client king of Osroene whose full title was Lucius Aelius Megas Abgar IX.[3] Bede may have got the story from a contemporary who had been to Rome, such as Nothhelm.[1]

Following Bede, versions of the Lucius story appeared in the 9th-century Historia Brittonum, and in 12th-century works such as William of Malmesbury's Gesta pontificum Anglorum and the Book of Llandaff.[1][4] However, the most influential was that in Geoffrey of Monmouth's 12th-century Historia Regum Britanniae. Geoffrey's narrative emphasises Lucius' virtues, and gives a detailed, if fanciful, account of the spread of Christianity during his reign.[5] In this version, Lucius is the son of the benevolent King Coilus and rules in the manner of his father.[6] Hearing of the miracles and good works performed by Christian disciples, he writes to Pope Eleuterus asking to join the flock. Eleuterus sends two missionaries, Fuganus and Duvianus, who baptise the king and establish a successful Christian order throughout Britain. They convert the commoners and flamens, turn pagan temples into churches, and establish dioceses and archdioceses where the flamens had previously held power.[6] The pope is pleased with their accomplishments, and Fuganus and Duvianus recruit another wave of missionaries to aid the cause.[7] Lucius responds by granting land and privileges to the Church. He dies without heir in AD 156, thereby weakening Roman influence in Britain.[8]

Later traditions are mostly based on one of these accounts, probably including a medieval inscription at the church of St Peter upon Cornhill in Cornhill, London in the City of London. There he is credited with having founded the St Peter's in 179 AD.

St. Lucius's feast day is on 3 December and he was canonised through the pre-congregational method.

Veneration in Chur

The legendary first bishop of Chur and patron saint of the Grisons (Switzerland) was also named St. Lucius, with whom the British Lucius is not to be confused. It is possible, however, that the mentioning of St. Lucius of Britain in the Liber Pontificalis soon led to a scholarly identification of the otherwise somewhat shapeless patron saint with his more prominent British namesake. His supposed relics are still kept in the cathedral of Chur, although there is little doubt among scholars that the bishopric was only established some 150 years after its alleged founder was martyred.

Notes

  1. ^ a b c d e Smith, Alan (1979). "Lucius of Britain: Alleged King and Church Founder". Folklore 90 (1): 29–36.  
  2. ^ Heal, Felicity (2005). "What can King Lucius do for you? The Reformation and the Early British Church". The English Historical Review 120 (487): 593–614.  
  3. ^ a b Heal, p. 614.
  4. ^ Heal, p. 595.
  5. ^ Heal, p. 594.
  6. ^ a b Historia Regum Britanniae, Book 4, ch. 19.
  7. ^ Historia Regum Britanniae, Book 4, ch. 20.
  8. ^ Historia Regum Britanniae, Book 5, ch. 1.

References

  • Heal, Felicity (2005). "What can King Lucius do for you? The Reformation and the Early British Church". The English Historical Review 120 (487): 593–614.  
  • Smith, Alan (1979). "Lucius of Britain: Alleged King and Church Founder". Folklore 90 (1): 29–36.  

External links

Regnal titles
Preceded by
Coilus
Mythical British Kings Interregnum of
Publius Septimius Geta
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