This article is the third part of three on the Rudston monolith in the East Riding of Yorkshire. You can read Part I here and Part II here.

I have transcribed the informative leaflet by W. W. Gatenby, which I acquired some years ago during a visit to the monolith and the Church of All Saints at Rudston in North Yorkshire. I’ll transcribe the leaflet exactly as is, which means that some of the phrasing and language reads quite dated, but I will look to re-paragraph some of it for ease of reading.

Rudton monolith and Celtic Cross

Photo Credit: Chris Collyer at Used with permission.

An account of the manner in which Christianity came to Rudston in 615AD was recorded by the Venerable Bede of the Abbey at Jarrow-on-Tyne. In scholarly monastic Latin he describes how following the appointment of Edwin as chief of the Celtic tribe of Parisii, to take the place of his ageing father, Edwin had earlier visited the home of the tribe’s leader in Kent where he had asked permission to marry the Chieftain’s daughter, Ethelburga.

The tribe had been visited by by St Augustine some years earlier, and all members had embraced Christianity. Edwin was told that Ethelburga would marry him if he and all his tribe in Yorkshire embraced Christianity too.

This message Edwin brought back after his long journey from Kent and a meeting of he tribal elders was held in the large moot meeting house at Goodmanham, to discuss the matter expressed their willingness to embrace Christianity, but before a decision was finally reached, one of the elder members stood up, pointed to a bird which had come into the dimly lit building through a hole in the wall and finally flown out through another gap, and he stressed that they, as humans under pagan regime were in a somewhat similar position to that bird in that they came into the light of the world from a place of unknown origin, and that when they died they left the light and went into outer darkness. From what he heard, Christianity offered them the hope of an afterlife, and he proposed very strongly that the whole tribe should be baptised as Christians.

To this, the whole of the elders agreed and then the question arose , how could they set about the transformation. Amongst those in the meeting house was Coifi, the high priest of the pagan god Baal, who office was a hereditary one, handed down through the generations from father to son, and who to this point had not said anything, other than to agree that Christianity should be brought to the tribe. On being asked how this change of religion could be brought about, he was rather non-committal but said emphatically, “Just you leave it to me, get the whole tribe ere and I will undertake to see that the change is taken without a hitch”.

So the word was sent round the area. The whole tribe congregated near the pagan temple and then Coifi appeared riding a stallion, which was strictly forbidden for a priest to do; also carrying a large lance, though a priest was not allowed to carry arms.

He  then rode round the temple at good speed and after the third time round he ordered the temple door to be opened, rode down the central aisle, and with his lance, pushed the graven image of the pagan god from its mounting down onto the floor.

Some of the older members of the tribe would possibly be deeply shocked to see their beliefs’ which had been drummed into them at an earlier age, now discarded in this way, but there is no doubt that some information regarding the nature of Christianity had begun to filter up into these northern regions.

The general consensus was that having begun this process it should be continued as quickly and as efficiently as possible which required baptism by complete immersion as practised by St John the Baptist. For this to be done it would require an ample depth of water. It was decided that the chosen spot should be at Yedingham, in the river Derwent, that the whole tribe should be informed to get there at a certain date, and in the final event more than 600 people were thoroughly baptised on the first occasion.

Knowing the low water coming from the springs in the Cleveland Hills, one can fully appreciate that thepeople carrying out the actual baptisms who were themselves more than waist deep, would have to be replaced at frequent intervals in order to stand up to their own rigorous treatment. 

All Saints Church and the Rudston Monolith

Photo Credit: Chris Collyer at Used with permission.

In accordance with the usual practice, where Christianity replaced a pagan religious practice, the pagan temple would be completely destroyed, and on the same identical site, a Christian church would be erected. This was undoubtedly done in the case of Rudston Church which occupied the same relative site in proximity to the monolith as did its predecessor.