Missionaries and settlers

By 500 AD, many of the invaders had settled in Britain. Western Britain (modern Argyll and Bute in Scotland) was home to powerful Irish kingdoms, including Dal Riata (or Dalriada). East of the line that runs between the Humber and the Isle of White, was under the control of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes.

Little is known about how these invaders settled in Britain. The only written source of any detail, is an account from a British monk – Gildas. He felt the arrival and dominance of the Anglo-Saxons was God’s punishment for the sins of the Britons.

Archaeology tells us a lot about the time. Particularly through Anglo-Saxon cemeteries, where personal possessions and weapons were buried in graves. The most famous of these graves is at Sutton Hoo (Mound 1) in Suffolk. This is widely believed to be the cemetery of the kings of East Anglia. A 30-foot ship was also buried at Sutton Hoo, and some of the objects buried with it suggest that Swedes may also have been involved in settling the nearby area.

In the early 5th century, the Christian church was well-established in Roman Britain, but it suffered greatly from the invasions. That said, it managed to survive in areas of the country that were not dominated by Anglo-Saxon invaders. Later, two missionaries began to help reach out and spread Christianity across the boundaries. These included:

St Nynia (or Ninian) was the first Scottish missionary. He founded a church at Whithorn (Dumfries and Galloway).

St Patrick was the first Irish missionary. He was captured as a child by Irish raiders and later escaped from his slavery. He then decided to go back to Ireland to spread the word of Christianity. We know little about his life and work, but we do know he was buried at Downpatrick (County Down) in the late fifth century. We also know that later the church in Armagh claimed St Patrick as their own. Many churches and monasteries have since been founded in the name of St Patrick.

Probably the most important founder was St Columba, who founded Derry and Durrow in Ireland. Then, after leaving Ireland in 565 AD, he founded the monastery of Iona, on a Scottish island, west of the Isle of Mull.