King Lucius (middle) in the east window in York Minster
St. Lucius, King and Confessor
WE are informed by Bede, 1 that in the reign of Marcus Antoninus Verus, and Aurelius Commodus, a British king, named Lucius, sent a letter to Pope Eleutherius, entreating, that by his direction he might be made a Christian. This must have happened about the year 182. Lucius must have reigned in some part of Britain which was subject to the Romans, as his name indicates. Tacitus 2 mentions Prasutagus, king of the Iceni, in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, and Huntingdonshire, who at his death made the Emperor Nero his heir, hoping by that means his people would be secured from injuries; whereas the contrary fell out, for the country was plundered by centurions and slaves. The same historian mentions, 3 that certain cities were given to Codigunus, “according to the ancient and received custom of the Roman people, to make even kings the instruments of the slavery of nations,” as he observes. That Lucius was a Christian king in Britain, is proved by two medals mentioned by Usher, 4 and one by Bouterue. Bede tells us, that by his embassy to Eleutherius he obtained the effect of his pious request; and that the Britons enjoyed the light of faith in peace till the reign of Dioclesian.
Lucius therefore was the first Christian king in Europe; it no where appears in what part of Britain he reigned. The records of Glastenbury abbey, quoted by Malmesbury, and others, mentioned by Usher, 5 tell us, that St. Eleutherius sent over to Britain SS. Fugatius and Damianus (rather Dumianus or Duvianus), who baptized King Lucius, and many others, and were buried at Glastenbury. In Somersetshire, in the deanery of Dunstor, there is a parish church which bears the name of St. Deruvian, as Stow testifies. This saint is called by the Welch, Duvian or Dwywan, says Usher. The Christian faith had reached Britain in the times of the apostles. St. Clement I., pope, affirms, that St. Paul preached to the utmost bounds of the West. Gildas says, 6 the first dawn of the evangelical light appeared in this island about the eighth year of Nero. Theodoret names the Britons as a nation in which St. Paul sowed the seeds of faith, and in another place says, that this apostle brought salvation to the islands that lie in the ocean. Three British bishops assisted at the council of Arles, in 314, namely, Eborius of York, Restitutus of London, and Adelfius, who is styled De civitate Coloniæ Londinensium; which Bishop Usher takes to have been Colchester; but many more probably understand by it Lincoln, anciently called Lindum Colonia. Also certain British bishops subscribed the council of Nice against the Arians. The testimonies of St. Justin, 7 St. Irenæus, 8 Tertullian, 9 Eusebius, 10 St. Chrysostom, 11 and Theodoret, 12 demonstrate that Christianity had got footing in Britain very soon after Christ. We cannot, therefore, wonder that a prince should have embraced the faith in this island in the second century: nor do the objections which some have raised, deserve notice. Schelstrate, the learned prefect of the Vatican library, in his dissertation on the patriarchal authority, transcribes the following words from an ancient manuscript history of the kings of England, kept in the Vatican library: “Lucius sent a letter to Pope Eleutherius that he might be made a Christian, and he obtained his request.” The same learned author copies the following testimony from an ancient catalogue of the popes, written in the time of the Emperor Justinian, as we are assured by the title, found in the library of Christina, queen of Sweden: “Eleutherius received a letter from Lucius, king of Britain, who desired to be made a Christian by his command.” 13 1
We are told by most Bavarian and German historians that King Lucius, resigning his kingdom, preached the faith first in Noricum and Vindelicia, principally at Ausburg, and, being banished thence, in Rhœtia, especially at Coire. But Bruschius confesses, that it is uncertain who that Lucius was, who preached the faith in those parts, and founded the church of Coire, where he has been honoured among the first apostles of that church from its infancy. Whilst he preached among the Grisons, storms raised by the infidels obliged him to fly into the desert, and there lie concealed in a place which is called to this day Sanct Lucis Steig, or the Hill of St. Lucius. He afterwards retired into a cavern a mile distant, which retains the name of Sanct Lucis Lochlin. At length he is said to have fallen into the hands of the persecutors, and been condemned to death by the Roman lieutenant of the province, and beheaded in the fortress of Martiola towards the latter end of the second century. There stands an ancient monastery near Coire, which bears the name of St. Lucius, and his feast is kept in that diocess with great solemnity. Portions of his relics are preserved in the church of St. Francis, and in that of the Jesuits at Ausburg.
Source and Notes