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Lucius (16)

Lucius (16) (Lleirwg, Lles, Lleufer-Mawr, Lleurwg), a mythical character represented as the first Christian king in Britain. By William of Malmesbury (Ant. Glast. ii.), and more especially by Geoffrey of Monmouth (Brit. Hist. iv. v.), besides later writers, Lucius is assigned a most important place in the Christianizing of Britain.

I. As represented by Geoffrey of Monmouth, whose narrative has made the deepest impression on popular history, Lucius was descended from Brutus, the founder and first king of Britain, and succeeded his father Coillus, son of Meirig or Marius. Like his father, he sought and secured the friendship of the Romans. The fame of the Christian miracles inspired him with such love for the true faith that he petitioned pope Eleutherus 674for teachers, and on the arrival of the two most holy doctors, Faganus and Duvanus, received baptism along with multitudes from all countries. When the missionaries had almost extinguished paganism in the island, they dedicated the heathen temples to the service of God, and filled them with congregations of Christians; they fully organized the church, making the flamens into bishops, and the archflamens into archbishops, and constituting 3 metropolitans with 28 suffragan bishops. Lucius largely endowed the church, and, rejoicing in the progress of the gospel, died at Gloucester (Malmesbury says at Glastonbury) a.d. 156; without leaving any issue (Baron. Ann. a.d. 183; Cressy, Church Hist. Brit. iii. iv. at great length and diffuseness; Lib. Landav. by Rees, 26, 65, 306, 309, but much shorter).

II. Parallel to the preceding, but without such minute details, is the legend in the Welsh Triads and genealogies, which are of very uncertain date and authority. Lleirwg, Lleurwg, or Lles, also named or surnamed Lleufer-Mawr ("the great luminary," as all the names express the idea of brightness, corresponding to the Latin Lucius), son of Coel ap Cyllin ap Caradog or Caractacus ap Bran, was a Welsh chieftain of Gwent and Morganwg in the S. of Wales. Two of the Triads (Myv. Arch. ii. 63, 68) state that he founded the church of Llandaff, which was the first in Britain, and endowed it with lands and privileges, giving the same also to all those persons who first embraced the gospel. The Welsh Triads would place him about the middle of the 2nd cent. (Rees, Welsh Saints, c. 4; Williams, Emin. Welsh. 276; Lib. Landav. by Rees, 309 n.; Lady Ch. Guest, Mabinogion, ii. 130; Stephens, Lit. Cymr. 69.)

III. In tracing the rise and growth of the legend there is comparatively little difficulty. Gildas makes no allusion to it. The earliest English author to notice it is Bede (Chron. a.d. 180): "Lucius Britanniae rex, missâ ad Eleutherium Romae episcopum epistolâ, ut Christianus efficiatur, impetrat"; and again H. E. i. c. 4.

The source from which Bede received the name of Lucius, and his connexion with Eleutherus, is shewn by Haddan and Stubbs (Counc. etc. i. 25) to have been a later interpolated form of the Catalogus Pontificum Romanorum (ap. Boll. Acta SS. 1 Apr. i. p. xxiii. Catalogi Veteres Antiquorum Pontificum). The original Catalogue, written shortly after 353, gives only the name and length of pontificate by the Roman consulships, but the interpolated copy (made c. 530) adds to the Vita S. Eleutheri "Hic accepit epistolam a Lucio Britanniae Rege ut Christianus efficeretur per ejus mandatum." Haddan and Stubbs conclude: "It would seem, therefore, that the bare story of the conversion of a British prince (temp. Eleutheri) originated in Rome during the 5th or 6th cents., almost 300 or more years after the date assigned to the story itself; that Bede in the 8th cent. introduced it into England, and that by the 9th cent. it had grown into the conversion of the whole of Britain; while the full-fledged fiction, connecting it specially with Wales and with Glastonbury, and entering into details, grew up between cents. 9 and 12."

Of the dates assigned to king Lucius there is an extreme variety, Ussher enumerating 23 from 137 to 190, and placing it in his own Ind. Chron. in 176, Nennius in 164, and Bede (Chron.) in 180, and again (H. E.) in 156. But the chronology is in hopeless confusion (see Haddan and Stubbs, i. 1–26). Ussher (Brit. Eccl. Ant. cc. iii.–vi.) enters minutely into the legend of Lucius, accepting his existence as a fact, as most other authors have done. His festival is usually Dec. 3.

[J.G.]

IV. A final explanation of the Lucius legend was given by Dr. Harnack in 1904. in the Sitzungsberichte der Königl. Preuss. Akademie der Wissensch. xxvi.–xxvii.. A recovered fragment of the Hypotyposes of Clement of Alexandria suggested to him that the entry in the Liber Pontificalis was due to a confusion between Britannio and Britio. Dr. Harnack shews that the latter word almost undoubtedly refers to the birtha or castle of Edessa. Bede probably misread Britio in the Liber Pontificalis as Britannio, and referred the entry in consequence to Britain, whereas it relates to the conversion of Edessa in the time of Lucius Abgar IX. Harnack further shews that the original quotation was probably transferred from Julius Africanus to the Lib. Pont. See the review of the question in Eng. Hist. Rev. xxii. (1907) 769. Thus the mythic king Lucius of Britain finally disappears from history.

[H.G.]

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