Who are the great historical figures of Western
Europe who define its identity? The answers of the secular
world to this question are quite different from those of
the Church. The Western secular world exalts secular
figures like Charlemagne, Charles V, or Napoleon as
“great Europeans”. But all three of these left
Europe full of graves. Indeed, Charlemagne and Charles V
were renowned for their massacres and, as for Napoleon, he
declared that he would have had Christ hanged as a
Crowd before an illuminated Santiago cathedral during the festivity of Saint James the Apostle. Santiago de Compostela, Photo: A Coruña,Turgalicia
The catalogues of the Church exclude
all such tyrants, for the true identity of Western
Europe is defined not by them, but by the thousands
upon thousands of Western Saints. Here we have no
space to mention the many amongst them who achieved
only local fame, but we can at least mention some of
the greatest, who obtained international
First and foremost, the spiritual
identity of Western Europe is closely linked to the
Chiefs of the Holy Apostles, Peter († c.64)
and Paul († c.65). Both came out of the East
and were martyred in the West and the latter founded
the first church in Western Europe, that in Rome. We
also honor the memories of other Apostles and
Apostolic figures, who are in other ways connected
with the West. Among these is the Apostle
sacred relics have been honored in Compostella in
Spanish Galicia for over a thousand years. Equally,
we remember Apostolic men from the East, such as St.
Ignatius of Antioch (c.107) and St. Justin Martyr
(c.165), both martyred in Rome, and St.
Irenaeus, († c.200),
martyred in Pyons in France.
These Apostolic figures were to inspire countless
others, who were to set out in later centuries as local
Apostles, to enlighten the different regions and provinces
of Western Europe. In the third and fourth centuries such
saints established the Church in south-western Europe, in
Italy, the Iberian Peninsula and Gaul, in the fifth and
sixth centuries in the Celtic West, in the seventh century
in England, and in the eighth to eleventh centuries in the
Secondly, we cannot overlook the host of martyrs of
the Imperial Capital and neighboring parts of the Empire.
Some of them are well-known, like St. Sophia and her three
children († 138), St.
Cecilia († 2nd cent), St.
Tatiana († 3rd century), St. Agatha († 3rd
century), St. Laurence († 258), St.
Valentine († c.270), St.
Sebastian († 288), St. Lucy
(† 304), St. Anastasia
(† c.304), St. Pancras
Januarius († c.305), St. Agnes
(† c.350), many others are less
In other parts of the Empire there were others who
also helped shape the spiritual identity of Europe. In
Northwest Africa also there were many martyrs, for
instance, St. Perpetua and St. Felicity
(† 203), and St. Cyprian of
Carthage (# 258). In other parts of the West there were
many other martyrs, still relatively little known outside
their homelands, for example, St. Maurice of Agaunum in
Switzerland († c.287), St. Eulalia of Merida
(† 304), St. Vincent of
Spain († 304), St. Alban
the Protomartyr of Britain († c.305), or St. Ursula
in Germany (5th cent).
St. John Cassian.
Thirdly, after these martyrs who sowed
the seeds of the Church, there came others to sow and
then harvest. There came Church Fathers such as St.
Hilary of Poitiers († c.368), St.
Ambrose of Milan († 397), the Church writers
Blessed Jerome of Stridon († 420) and Blessed
Augustine of Hippo († 430), Fathers such as
St. John Cassian
Vincent of Perins
Leo the Great
later St. Gregory the Great († 604) and
St. Martin I
(† 655). And we should not
fail to remember one who, though not a Church Father,
is a great confessor who shone forth in Rome, St.
Alexis († 5th
century), the Man of God.
Similarly there are the great monastic founders and
organizers of the Church, especially in heathen northwest
Europe. For instance, in Gaul there were St. Martin of
Tours († 397), who inspired St.
Ninian († 432) in
Pictish Scotland and St. Patrick in Ireland
(† c.461). In Italy, there was the great St.
Benedict of Nursia
(† c.550). In Frankish Gaul
there were St. Remigius (Remi)
baptized Clovis, St. Germanus of Paris
(†561), St. Eloi
(† 660) and St. Peger
(† 679). In Iberia, there were
St. Leander of Seville († c.601), St. Isidore of
Seville († 636), St. lldefonsus (Alphonso) of
Toledo († 666) and St. Julian of Toledo (†
690). On the Germanic Marches there are also two great
Apostles of the Lowlands, St. Lambert († c.705) and
St. Hubert of Maastricht (+ 727).
we should not overlook the role played by women. The
Orthodox West had not only founders, but also
foundresses, in many ways it owed its conversion more
to holy women and princesses than to princes. The
first here is not a princess, but certainly a
princess of the spirit, St. Monica († 387),
who outshone her son, Bishop Augustine, by her
holiness. Then there are St. Genevieve of Paris
(† c.500), St. Clotilde († 545), St.
Radegund († 587) and St. Bathilde (†
680). Before them in Ireland there had already been
St. Brigid († c.525), and after them in
England came St. Audrey († 679) and St. Hilda
(† 680). Their activities in the West mirror
the activities of other holy foundresses further east
much later, for example, the Bohemian St. Ludmila
(† c.925) in the Czech Lands and the Swedish
St. Olga (Helga) († 969) in Kiev.
In the Isles the work of St. Patrick,
mentioned above, was continued by the founder of
monastic Ion a, St. Columba († 597). And his
work in turn later inspired St. Aidan († 651)
to found the monastic centre of Lindisfarne in the
northeast of England. In the south of England there
was the organizer St. Augustine of Canterbury
(† c.604). These all inspired kings and
princes, for instance, St. Ethelbert († 616),
St. Edwin († 633) and St. Oswald (†
642). In the later seventh century the work of these
figures was continued by the Greek St. Theodore of
Canterbury († 690) and St. Cuthbert of
Lindisfarne († 687). Their work was in its
turn continued into the early eighth century by St.
Guthlac of Crowland (†714) and St. Bede the
Venerable († 735). The piety of the Isles had
already overflowed into Western Europe with St.
Columbanus († 615) and St. Gall († 630)
in Switzerland. Their work was to be continued and
organized in the eighth century by two English
missionaries, St. Willibrord (Clement) in the
Netherlands († 739) and the martyr St.
Boniface (Winfrith) in the German Lands (†
St. Anschar (Ansgar).
were also later martyrs, particularly in the ninth
century. Firstly, there were those under the Muslims
in Spain, especially Cordoba, such as those recorded
by St. Eulogius († 859). Then, especially in
England, there were the many martyrs under the Danish
Vikings, such as St. Edmund († 869). They were
followed by later builders and restorers of the
Church, workers of the eleventh hour. These include
those in the Scandinavian Lands, such as St. Anschar
(Oscar) († 865) in Denmark, St. Olaf (†
1029) in Norway and St. Sigfrid († c.1045) in
Sweden. As regards the martyrs of England, they laid
the foundations for the later restorers of monastic
life, such as St. Ethelwold († 984), St.
Dunstan († 988) and St. Oswald (†
After a thousand-year-long apostasy and as,
seemingly, we re-enter pagan times, there are those who
consider that the Christian history of Western Europe is a
thing of the past. This is a negative and fatalistic
viewpoint. The spiritual identity of Western Europe is not
beyond recovery. The final word in history has not yet
been spoken. However, if Western Europe is to be recovered
for Christ, this will only come to pass through the pure
seeds of its Conversion, on the foundations laid by the
above Great Europeans.
From Orthodox England, 2004