The Angles & Saxons In Britain
In the extreme north of the empire too, there were problems. In the first half of the fifth century, the Romans withdrew from Britain, and the Anglo-Saxons came to dominate the land. Groups of Angles, Saxons, and Jutes crossed the North Sea and conquered large parts of the island, encroaching upon the native population. Gradually, the Cornish and the Welsh were nudged into the western and northern parts of the isles. The Germanic people were not the only ones exerting pressure on Britain, for the Picts and Scots were conducting constant raids at the same time.
In place of the romanised Britons rose several Germanic kingdoms that maintained both independence and a loose spirit as a common group. These Germanic people had never been immersed in Roman culture, and so they were more interested in replacing Roman traditions, rather than retaining them (as Theodoric the Ostrogoth tried to do).
The Anglo-Saxons who came to Britain were originally pagan, but converted to Christianity through two different sources. One source of conversion came from Ireland, which in the fifth century had been introduced to a monastic version of Christianity associated with the eastern part of the empire. Beginning in the latter half of the sixth century, Irish mendicants from a monastery on Iona (an island near the coast of Scotland) started to travel around northern Britain and convert the population there.
The other source of Christianity was the missionary Augustine of Canterbury, who was sent to Britain by Pope Gregory the Great in 596 A.D. Augustine became the bishop of Canterbury, and helped spread a form of Christianity that was quite different in practice from the one being introduced by Irish monks in the north of Britain. While the form coming from Ireland was monastic and did not have a rigid, centralised structure, Augustine’s form was hierarchical and had the pope at the head of the Church.
As these two forms spread across Britain, there came the inevitable conflict between religious practices, and in 664 A.D., the Synod of Whitby was called together to decide the debate. The Roman, centralised form of Christianity was adopted, and Christian Anglo-Saxon culture grew significantly in the next one hundred and fifty years. During this time, Christian England (land of the Angles) became home to two important learning institutions of the whole region, the monasteries of Monkwearmouth and Jarrow, which produced one of the best scholars of the age, Bede (673 – 735 A.D.). England furthered its legacy and influence across the continent when it began to send out its own missionaries in the eighth century to the regions of Europe where her Anglo-Saxon ancestors had come from.