A rare and beautiful thing!

The British Isles are suffused with, indeed drenched in history tracing a path through thousands of years, countless generations, and cultures too numerous to mention. Living in Northumbria we are aware more than many of the procession of time through the ages, we have access to the voices of history through the earliest times, the Roman annexation of Britannia into their empire, the rise of Saxon life overpowered by the Northmen, the destruction caused by the reformation, the political change during the glorious Revolution, the turbulent times of the twentieth century to our modern technological age.

Very occasionally a discovery is made which surprises and delights, but which might also completely change our view of life before our own experience. I visited Vindolanda recently to view a chalice, albeit fragmentary. Nothing strange there you might think however this chalice is dated (yet to be confirmed) to between the 5th and 6th century, following the departure in 410 A.D. of the Romans (well the departure was gradual rather than sudden) however the impact of Roman life declined very quickly.  Christianity had been accepted over 150 years previously into Roman religious life under Constantine but was still not a major religion. At Vindolanda however evidence has been unearthed of Christian places of worship almost abutting pagan temples. How did this happen? This was clearly before Aidan and Cuthbert and the establishment of Christianity in the north. There is much to consider here.

The Vindolanda Chalice

The museum at Vindolanda now has a room dedicated to the immediate post Roman period in which is displayed a selection of British artefacts, the central display being the fragments of this fascinating chalice. Fragmentary, as I have mentioned, in 14 parts; the artefact is etched with symbols of early Christianity which are illustrated by a video display on the rear wall. The University of Durham is currently researching this unique and precious find which, in its beauty, raises so many questions about those who, lived, worked, and worshipped in Northumbria 1500 years ago.

I would urge anyone who has not visited Vindolanda and its museum to go and view this room, the accompanying texts illustrate the times and the reflections of Bede help us to understand the world as it was. This room was only opened in September 2020 and this object will surely change the progress of history for all, in particular those who see it.