Overview of Christianity in Britain
Of the religions practised in modern Britain, Christianity is the most long-established
and widely observed. It was first brought to Britain during the days of
the Roman empire. There are, in fact, forty churches still in regular use,
parts of which date from that period. With the departure of the legions
and the Anglo-Saxon invasions of the fifth century Christianity was reduced
to pockets of support in Wales, Scotland and Ireland. This situation changed
with the arrival of missionaries sent by the Pope led by Augustine in 597.
The next few centuries saw Christianity established throughout Britain.
Augustine, meanwhile, became the first Archbishop of Canterbury, the holder
of which position remains the most important figure in the Church of England.
Bishops were also established in a number of other centers, and by the end
of the eleventh century a system of dioceses and parishes had been established
across much of England. This system, with the creation of additional parishes
and dioceses in the nineteenth century to cope with population growth and
urban development, remains the basis of the structure of the Church of England.
The Reformation of the sixteenth century did not disturb this structure.
It did, however, fracture the Christian community in the British Isles.
Links with Rome were broken and an established church owing its allegiance
to the English crown replaced the medieval Church in England, Wales and
Ireland. In Scotland it was replaced by the established Presbyterian Church
of Scotland. Roman Catholicism survived in strength only in Ireland.
The Reformation was followed by further divisions. Conflicts over theology,
church order and freedom of conscience led to a series of secessions from
the Church of England in the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
These Free Churches, as they are now called, were joined in the eighteenth
and nineteenth centuries by the Methodist products of the Evangelical Revival.
This and the resurgence of Roman Catholicism throughout Britain in the course
of the nineteenth century, largely as a result of immigration, particularly
from Ireland, produced an increasingly diverse religious scene. Further
immigration in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has added to this
diversity. There are now over 200 different Christian denominations in Britain.
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