York: religion

During medieval times, religious life in York was closely related to different dominating groups of people across the time period of this course. To explore and analyze the developments of religious life in York from c.300 to c.1050, this page is divided into three sections: the Roman period, the Anglo-Saxon period, and the Viking period.

Roman Period – Eboracum (c.300 — c.410)

Religious life in York during the Roman period was diversified. Christianity existed and gradually flourished in York, yet was not widely accepted nor legalized prior to the Edict of Milan. As much archaeological evidence has suggested, a number of other religions also coexisted in this region. People in this ancient and cosmopolitan city, including Roman administrators and soldiers, native Britons, foreign merchants and travelers, were likely to worship different deities from various religions.

Ancient Roman Deity — Vulcan
Vulcan, the God of Fire, Volcanoes and Blacksmithing from the fort at Catterick, north of York

In ancient Roman mythology, Vulcan is the god of fire including the fire of volcanoes, metalworking, and the forge. He belongs to the most ancient stage of Roman religion, which could be traced back to the rule of king Titus Tatiu. The presence of such Roman religions was probably brought to York by Roman administrators and soldiers.

Roman God of War — Mars
      Statue of Mars in York

This statue was discovered beneath Bar Convent, York, which was originally a Roman fortress of Eboracum. Mars, the God of War in Roman mythology, was very popular with the Roman army. York, with its legionary garrison of thousands of Roman soldiers, would certainly have had a number of worshipers dedicated to him.

Egyptian Deity — Serapis
       Serapis dedication stone found in York

This is a Roman tablet made out of millstone grit, a kind of commonly found sandstone in Northern England. The words carved here were in Latin, recording the constructions of a temple in honor of the Egyptian god Serapis, which is surprising since York was never an Egyptian city. We may imagine that merchants and travelers coming from distant parts of the Roman Empire who inhabited in York at this time built the temple and tablet to promote their cultures.

Celtic God — Toutatis

   Toutatis ring from Eboracum

Toutatis, a Celtic God, was worshiped especially in Gaul and in Roman Britain. He was known to us mainly through these specially carved finger rings and literary works of Roman poets. Celtic religions had been common to the native Britons in York since a very early age and existed through this period.

Moreover, many other deities, such as the Roman deity Hercules, the Persian god Mithras and Sucellus from the Gallon-Roman religion, all played an important role in the religious developments of York during this period. Different religions and their followers could be found in this city and created a rich and varied religious life.

 Early Developments of Christianity in York

Although largely persecuted, early Christianity also managed to develop in many parts of the Roman Empire, including York. The bishop of Eboracum attended the Council of Arles, the first representative meeting of Christian bishops in the Western Roman Empire, in AD 314, meaning that there were already active Christians in York in the early 4th century.

The first Christian Emperor of the Rome Empire

Constantine the Great, who was declared Roman emperor in York, later decreed toleration of Christianity. He personally converted to the Christian faith on his deathbed, being baptized by Eusebius of Nocomedia. His father, Constantius, also took sympathy towards the persecuted Christians .

Statue of Constantine the Great in York

Anglo-Saxon Period – Eoforwic (c.410-c.866)

After the Roman period, many Germanic settlers immigrated from Northern Europe to York; these were the Anglo-Saxons. In the seventh century it was renamed Eoforwic (York History).

In the 5th century, the ruling kings preferred the pagan gods and Christianity was unpopular, but then in 601, Pope Gregory wrote to Augustine in England and urged him to send a bishop to found a new church, so then York became the new ecclesiastical center (York as a Religious Centre). Developing on this new ecclesiastical center, the remaining pagan kingdoms were converted to Christianity throughout the seventh century.

In 627, Edwin, an Anglian king of Northumbria, conquered the region and then the Christian princess Ethelburga of Kent came to marry him, and persuaded him to Christianity as part of their marriage agreement. Then, a wooden church was built for his baptism, which was done by Ethelburga’s priest, Paulinus. The church was called the first Minister because it was the first one that was built in the area of the current Minister. These Minister churches are characteristic only of the Saxon period (York History).

Edwin was important in York’s history and was the first Christian Northumbrian king. He died in battle in 633. (History of York).

The glass of first Minister. In the center is Ecgbert.

After the baptism, the church was rebuilt in stone by Oswald, finished around 640, and dedicated to St. Peter.

Here is an image of a famous York Helmet. It was a prized possession and a great status symbol. Its inscription in Latin says “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and God; and to all we say amen Oshere.” It is dated around 750 to 775.

Here is an image of a famous York Helmet. It was a prized possession and a great status symbol. Its inscription in Latin says “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and God; and to all we say amen Oshere.” It is dated around 750 to 775.

This is an Anglian cross that was of high value.

Around 735, York became an archbishopric, and the first archbishop was Ecgbert. He made York a place for learning by developing the school and library.

Also in 735, a monastery was founded and became internationally known for its scholarship (York History Timeline, 2004).

Around 735-740, Alcuin was born and as a child he was handed over to the Minister community under Archbishop Ecgbert. According to some, he mastered Psalms by 11 and praised to the influences of Bede and Ethelbert, his teacher.

Alcuin worked at the York school and became master of it in 778, and he also became a deacon in the church at this time, but was never a priest. He wrote a lot of poems. In 781, he went to Rome to petition the pope, and on his way back, he encountered Charlemagne and became one of his advisers on education and religion (History of York).

York enjoyed prosperity and held a prominent place in the Anglo-Saxon world at this time, and did until the Vikings attacked in 866.

Viking Age – Jorvik (c.866 — c.1066)

After the Invasion of Ivar the Boneless in 866 AD, Eoforwic was under Viking control and renamed Jorvik, thus beginning the Viking Age. When the pagan vikings arrived to Christian Eoforwic, they began a peaceful yet slow conversion to Christianity. This resulted in a mix of paganism and Christianity that manifested itself in various kinds of culture.  But why did the Vikings convert? How do we know they converted? And how did daily life reflect this conversion?

Why did the Vikings convert?

When the Vikings first came to Jorvik, they worshiped the old Norse gods. Yet as their presence solidified, they began to rely on trade with Christian kingdoms, and because Christians were not supposed to trade with non-Christians, it became very complicated. There was therefore increasing pressure for the Vikings to convert if they wanted to maintain their rule. In 878, the Treaty of Wedmore was passed between the Viking leader Guthrum and Alfred of Wessex that politically  bound Vikings to Christianity, yet this was not as drastically felt on the popular scale (Vikings: From Pagans to Christians).

Popular conversion to Christianity occurred at a much slower pace, encouraged by the need to trade. Primsigning, a form of partial baptism was popular among Viking traders because it was enough to allow for trade but still not full conversion. There is very little known about Viking pagan rituals and practice, but there is a rich literary history of the gods they worshiped documented in the Eddas, which represent Viking pagan beliefs as folk tales. It is thought that slowly, the incorporation of religion into a folkloric culture facilitated the conversion process (Williams, 2011).

How do we know the Vikings converted?

Evidence of this merging of beliefs is seen in a multitude of places. A prime example of this is coinage. Jorvik, being an economic hub, produced many coins in its mint. Certain coins have both elements of paganism and Christianity. An example is the silver St. Peter penny. It carried the name of a Christian saint, but the last letter, forms Thor’s hammer Mjollnir. Scholars use this as evidence for the belief that paganism and Christianity existed harmoniously (History of York).


St. Peter’s penny, showing Christian and Pagan symbols. c. 919-25

Additionally, many of York’s churches survived the Viking age such as the Minster, and some were even thought to have been built at that time (History of York).

“It is very difficult to say how Christianity recovered after the big colonisation, Churches would have been targeted, religious life would have suffered, and in some places was largely snuffed out; but it is hard to establish the degree to which Viking conquerors would have persecuted Christians, or if they tolerated, or even took little interest, in their religious life.” -Dr. Chris Tuckley (Wilkinson, 2017)

The Manifestation of Religious Merging

The native population of Jorvik was never completely erased by the arrival of the Vikings. Contrarily, settlers often had native wives. The resulting children were often brought up in religiously diverse households, possibly even fully Christian. Eventually, full conversion was occurred as intermarriage continued and the influence of the church grew stronger (Williams, 2011).

Vikings who had come as conquerors began to settle down and had “gone native” in terms of the religious landscape. By the period in which Jorvik is set — about a century later — the two faiths have settled into relative harmony.” -Dr. Chris Tuckley (Wilkinson, 2017)


Design, SUMO. “History of York.” Viking Invasion: History of York. Accessed March 11, 2019. http://www.historyofyork.org.uk.

Grimshaw, Patricia. “Vikings in Our Midst: the Jorvik Viking Center brings the past to life based on archeological findings.” (2018) The Vintage News. https://www.thevintagenews.com/2018/05/17/jorvik-viking-centre/

Hall, R. A. (1996). English Heritage book of York. London: B.T. Batsford. 

Hartley, E. (1985). Roman life at the Yorkshire Museum: Gallery guide.

History of York. Retrieved from http://www.historyofyork.org.uk/themes/roman/roman-gods-and-goddesses.

“History of York.” Viking Invasion: History of York. Accessed March 11, 2019. http://www.historyofyork.org.uk/themes/the-romans-arrive.

“Jorvik (York) as a Religious Centre.” A Viking Raid. Accessed March 11, 2019. http://www.viking.no/e/england/york/jorvik_as_a_religious_centre.html.

Robson, Louise. “York History Timeline.” York History. Accessed March 11, 2019. http://web.archive.org/web/20070314135055/http://www.yorkhistory.com/timeline/index.php.

“Vikings: From Pagans to Christians” History on the Net. https://www.historyonthenet.com/vikings-from-pagans-to-christians

Wilkinson, Paul. “Christianity given larger part in revamped Jorvik’s story”. (2017). Church Times. https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2017/17-march/news/uk/christianity-given-larger-part-in-revamped-jorvik-s-story

Williams, Gareth. “Viking Religion”. (2011). BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/vikings/religion_01.shtml

“York History – Saxon York.” Britain Express. Accessed March 11, 2019. https://www.britainexpress.com/cities/york/saxon.htm.


  1. sheny2

    Some Online Sources(links) of Religious life in York

    A couple of wiki links about religious life in York:

    General Timeline of York’s history:

    Websites about York’s History:

    Brief history of Christianity in York:

    Religious history and list of archbishops of York:

  2. sheny2

    3.3 Meeting
    Periods (300-1050)
    Yicheng: 300 and before–410 Roman Eboracum
    Allegra: 410–866 Anglo-Saxon Eoforwīc/Eoforwic
    Celine: 866–954 Viking Jórvík/Jorvik
    954–1066 Anglo-Scandinavian
    Big Sections:
    Religious life in 3 time periods
    Under each section:
    Religions (Paganisms, Christianity)
    Important Events (Missionary, Conversions, Church Building)
    Important People (Major bishops/abbots)

  3. sheny2

    I have almost finished my part, will work on ratifying it during the next couple of days. Feel free to give advice or comments to improve!
    Also just a reminder to save the works that we used for the Wiki and post the reference under the reference section at the end.
    If you need help on your section, let me know!

    1. pihlajaa

      Your part looks good so far, I’ll take a look at it once you’re completely done and see if I have any suggestions. I’m still working on my part but hope to have it up within the next few days!

  4. pihlajaa

    If you guys didn’t already see, Michael sent out an email to find a time to meet with everyone working on the York wiki.

    1. sheny2

      Yes, I have noticed that. I am wondering that we can also meet as our small group before or after that big meeting.

      1. pihlajaa

        Yeah depending on when the meeting is, we should meet as a small group before or after to go over our page and how we’ll present it. Probably on Sunday?

  5. sheny2

    Hi guys I think my first part is mostly finished. Feel free to add things or give comments about it.
    By the way, it seems that the big group has decided to meet on Sunday at 7. We should probably complete our section before that so that we could talk about it in the big group discussion as well as organize it within ourselves.
    When do you guys want to meet as our small group to finalize everything? If we have more time we can also look at each other’s part and do some peer review and checks!

    1. sheny2

      And about the group presentation, we can also think about it when completing the page and discuss how to do it in the meeting.

  6. smithc4

    Hey guys, I’ve finished my part let me know what you think! There was a lot more I could add but I decided to focus on the most important ones and try to organize it by questions that I answer. There are also a few redundancies between my part and the other pages for York so we might want to discuss that tomorrow when we all meet up. Could we also work on references together? I think it would be good to use footnotes instead of having a bibliography.

    1. sheny2

      Sounds good. We can discuss the reference tomorrow.

  7. smithc4

    I’ve made some minor edits (grammatical/spelling) to the whole page.

  8. pihlajaa

    Hey guys, I added my Anglo-Saxon information. I still have to edit it a bit and will look over your information, too. I’ll also look over the York page as a whole and see what we need to talk about tonight when we meet in terms of presenting and any overlap.


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