The speaker at the Lit was Karen Murderasi who studied Ancient History at St Andrew’s University and has written a number of books on early Christian saints.
Like most academic historians Karen does not really like the term ‘Dark Ages’, preferring ‘early mediaeval’. This is the time period following the collapse of the Roman Empire, approximately 476-800.
Karen explained that although it was a very unpleasant time in which to live the ‘dark’ imagery does not refer to war, famine and pestilence but to the period when very little history was recorded.
This era, with no time for art, records or literacy, applied to Britain as well as Western Europe.
While under Roman rule Britain was part of a vast literate, interconnected empire, but the collapse of the Roman Empire was followed by the northern Germanic tribes migrating south – the Goths, Vandals and Huns.
Karen went on to describe two points of light in this grim story.
Firstly she spoke of the influential Christian theologian and philosopher St Augustine (354-430). He was born in the Roman province of Numidia (now Algeria) and studied in Rome and Milan before returning to Algeria.
When the Vandals invaded North Africa they burnt much of the city of Hippo where Augustine was based, but his library was unscathed and his writings saved for posterity.
The second important early Christian Karen touched on was St Patrick (389-461), the 5th century Romano-British Christian missionary and Bishop of Ireland.
There are many myths and stories surrounding Patrick, but again some of his writings, notably his memoir “The Confession”, have survived.
Escape from the Dark Ages was heralded by invasions of Angles, Saxons and Jutes.
More records began to be made, for example the Venerable Bede (672-735), Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne (800-814), Alfred the Great (871-899) and on into the Viking Period (780-899).
Karen provided us with a fascinating insight into this little known time period.
At the next meeting of North Bute Literary Society, to be held tomorrow (Tuesday), another saint will be the topic – St Ninian, in a talk by Peter Atkins.
The group meets fortnightly at Ardbeg Baptist Church, King Street, Rothesay.