Aristobulus of Britannia

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Aristobulus of Britannia
St. Aristobulus of Britain.jpg
Icon of Saint Aristibule the Old, Apostle, Martyr, and First Bishop of Britain
First Bishop of Britain
Died1st century
Venerated inChristianity
Feast15 March (Roman Catholic)
16 March (Eastern Orthodox)
19 Paremhat (Coptic Christianity)[1]

Aristobulus of Britannia is a Christian saint named by Hippolytus of Rome (170–235) and Dorotheus of Gaza (505–565) as one of the Seventy Disciples mentioned in Luke 10:1–24 and as the first bishop in Roman Britain.[2]

Full title in various languages[edit]

  • English: Saint Aristibule the Old, Apostle, Martyr, and First Bishop of Britain
  • Greek: Ἅγιος Ἀριστόβουλος, ἐπίσκοπος Βρετανίας, ἀδελφός τοῦ ᾿Αποστόλου Βαρνάβα,[3] translit. Hagios Aristoboulos episkopos Brettanias, adelphos tou apostolou Barnaba, transcr. (Byzantine/Modern) Aghios Apostolos Aristovoulos, episkopos Vrettanias, adelfos tou apostolou Varnava ("The Holy Apostle Aristobulus, Bishop of Britain, brother of the Apostle Barnabas")
  • Latin: Sanctus Aristobulus Senex, Apostolus, Martyr, Episcopus Primus Britanniae
  • Welsh: Arwystli Hen Episcob Cyntaf Prydain ("Aristibule the Old, First Bishop of Britain")


Pseudo-Hippolytus lists "Aristobulus, bishop of Britain" among the seventy disciples.[2]

Aristobulus may be mentioned in the New Testament in the Epistle to the Romans (Romans 16:10: "...Salute them which are of Aristobulus' household") although this may mean members of the household of the late Aristobulus IV.[4] According to Lionel Smithett Lewis, the writings of St Dorotheus, Bishop of Tyre AD 303, assert that Aristobulus, whom Paul saluted in the Epistle to the Romans, was the Bishop of Britain.[5] : 118–121 

Orthodox tradition[edit]

Orthodox tradition says Aristobulus was the brother of the Apostle Barnabas, of Jewish Cypriot origin. Like Barnabas, he accompanied Saint Paul on his journeys.[6] He was one of the assistants of Saint Andrew,[7] along with Urban of Macedonia, Stachys, Ampliatus, Apelles of Heraklion and Narcissus of Athens (all of these names are mentioned together by St. Paul in Romans 16:8–11, which cannot be casual). On his missionary journey to Britain, he stopped to preach to the Celtiberians of northern Hispania.[7] Catholic tradition identifies Aristobulus with Zebedee, father of James and John.[8]

Aristobulus preached and died in Roman Britain.[6] While some orthodox traditions say he "died in peace",[9] others say he was martyred in Wales.[7] Catholic tradition says he was martyred.[8] The Benedictine monk Serenus de Cressy (1605–1674) maintained that Aristobulus was ordained by St. Paul and died at Glastonbury Abbey in 99; but Michael Alford (author of Fides Regia Britannica Sive Annales Ecclesiae Britannicae) says that Aristobulus was the husband of "Mary" Salome, which makes this date appear too late.[5] Alford gives his death as "the second year of Nero" – 56.[10] Alford also asserts that "It is perfectly certain that, before St Paul had come to Rome, Aristobulus was away in Britain".[11][12] This is in accord with the date given by Gildas (c. 500–570 AD) that the "Light of Christ" shone in Britain in the last year of Emperor Tiberius.[13] However, George Smith points out that this a misinterpretation of Gildas, and asserts that the Gospel was not preached in Britain before the reign of Claudius,[14] whose full name was Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus.

British tradition[edit]

From these traditions, it seems that Aristobulus was the founder of British Christianity. There is no evidence for any connection with Glastonbury and John Scott shows in An Early History of Glastonbury that the legend purporting that Joseph of Arimathea founded the Glastonbury Abbey there is of 12th or 13th-century origin and has no basis in fact. Rather, the early writings frequently centre on Aristobulus.[5] There is no mention of Joseph prior to the Conquest. For this and other reasons, Smith also considers the account of Joseph of Arimathea a "superstitious fable of comparatively modern invention".[15]

John Williams identifies Aristobulus with Arwystli Hen, a "man of Italy", and one of four missionaries believed to have brought Christianity to the British Isles.[16] There is a tradition linking him to one of the medieval Welsh saints Arwstyl ap Cunedda.[17] The title "Arwystli Hen"[5]: 119  may have originated through a later British tradition.

Herodian parallels[edit]

Aristobulus of Chalcis was the son of Herod of Chalcis and Mariamme, the daughter of Olympias.[18] He married Salome, the daughter of Herod II and Herodias.[19] They had three sons: Herod, Agrippa, and Aristobulus.[20] Lionel Smithett Lewis maintains that this latter Aristobulus could have been the Aristobulus of Britannia,[21] and referred to by Cressy. However, it is this man's father who was the husband of Salome, as mentioned by Alford (see previous section).

In 55, Nero appointed Aristobulus of Chalcis as King of Armenia Minor. He participated with his forces in the Roman–Parthian War of 58–63, where he received a small portion of Armenia in exchange,[22] an area he continued to rule until 72 when Vespasian reduced the regional autonomy of some of the provinces.[23]

It is probable that the "Philip" (mentioned above) are those mentioned in the New Testament are Philip the Tetrarch. The matter is disputed by scholars. There is no contemporary evidence for Philip the Tetrarch's use of the name "Herod Philip" as a dynastic title, as did occur with his brothers Herod Antipas and Herod Archelaus, yet he was of the same family and the scriptural reference may be emphasising this fact, as do later scriptural commentators. Today, Herod II is sometimes called "Herod Philip I" (because the gospels call the husband of Herodias "Philip"), and then Philip the Tetrarch is called "Herod Philip II", but this is an anachronistic convention.[a][24] Kokkinos says, "The stubborn existence of many theologians in referring to Herod III as 'Herod Philip' is without any value...No illusory Herod Philip ever existed."[24][p 223-233]; [266] Philip the Tetrarch, "unlike his brothers, did not use Herod as a dynastic name."[25] Philip's half-brothers, Archelaus and Antipas, had adopted the name of Herod, "presumably" for a dynastic claim from Herod the Great.[26]


In the Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar, Aristobulus' personal feast day is 16 March.[6] He is also one of the saints commemorated on 4 January (feast of the Seventy Disciples)[27] and on 31 October (feast of the assistants of Saint Andrew).[9] In the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, his feast is 15 March.[8]


  1. ^ Note: It is an example of the great difficulty in establishing the relationships of various holders of the same name in the same area or family – especially in the Herodian dynasty.


  1. ^ "Baramhat 19 : Lives of Saints : Synaxarium -".
  2. ^ a b Pseudo-Hippolytus. "Church Fathers: On the Apostles and Disciples". New Advent. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  3. ^ "Μνήμη τοῦ ἁγίου ἀποστόλου ᾿Αριστοβούλου, ἐπισκόπου Βρεττανίας, ἀδελφοῦ τοῦ ᾿Αποστόλου Βαρνάβα" ["Commemoration of the Sainted Apostle Aristobulus, Bishopf of Britain, Brother of the Apostle Barnabas]. Apostoliki Diakonia: Eorlogio (in Greek). Apostoliki Diakonia (Apostolic Auxiliary) of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece. Retrieved 29 April 2017.
  4. ^ Carrington, Philip (2011). The Early Christian Church: Volume 1, The First Christian Church. Cambridge University Press. p. 149. ISBN 9780521166416.
  5. ^ a b c d Smithett Lewis, Lionel (1955). St Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury. London: James Clarke & Co.
  6. ^ a b c "Apostle Aristobulus of the Seventy the Bishop of Britain". Calendar of Saints. Orthodox Church in America. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  7. ^ a b c "Saint Aristobulus, Apostle of Britain", Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries
  8. ^ a b c "St. Aristobulus". Saints & Angels. Catholic Online. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  9. ^ a b "Apostle Aristobulus of the Seventy". Calendar of Saints. Orthodox Church in America. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  10. ^ Lewis 1955, p. 120.
  11. ^ Lewis 1955, pp. 14–15.
  12. ^ "Regia Fides" vol.1, p.19.
  13. ^ Lewis 1955, p. 19.
  14. ^ Smith 1865, p. 114.
  15. ^ Smith 1865, p. 119.
  16. ^ Williams, John (1844). The Ecclesiastical Antiquities of the Cymry; Or the Ancient British Church; Its History, Doctrine, and Rites. W. J. Cleaver. p. 57.
  17. ^ Baring-Gould, S.; Fisher, John (2005). The Lives of the British Saints: The Saints of Wales, Cornwall and Irish Saints. Kessinger Publishing. p. 175. ISBN 9780766186798.
  18. ^ Flavius, Josephus (1965). Antiquities of the Jews (Loeb Classical Library ed.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
  19. ^ Antiquities xvii: 137 ; xx: 13, 104
  20. ^ Antiquities xviii: 137
  21. ^ Lewis p.121
  22. ^ Tacitus, Annals, XIII.7; XIV.26
  23. ^ Public Domain Elder, Edward (1870). "Aristobu'lus". In Smith, William (ed.). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. Vol. 1. p. 301.
  24. ^ a b Kokkinos, Nikkos 'The Herodian Dynasty: Origins, Role in Society and Eclipse', Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha Supplement Series, 1998, Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield, 236–240
  25. ^ Bowman, Alan K., Champlin Edward, and Lintott, Andrew (eds) (2001), Cambridge Ancient History, Vol.10, The Augustan Empire, 43 B.C.-A.D. 69, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press; Refers to him throughout as Philip, or Philip the Tetrarch.
  26. ^ Cambridge Ancient History, (latest reprint 1965), Gen. eds.: J.B. Bury, S.A. Cook, F.E. Adcock, M.P. Charlesworth, N.H. Baynes, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: Vol.10, The Augustan empire, 44 B.C.-A.D. 70
  27. ^ "Apostle Aristobulus of the Seventy". Calendar of Saints. Orthodox Church in America. Retrieved 15 July 2012.


  • Flavius, Josephus. "Antiquities of the Jews", Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1965: (Loeb Classical Library)
  • St Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ohrid
  • Lewis, Lionel Smithett (1955). St Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury. London: James Clarke & Co.
  • Morley, Douglas S. The Early Church in Britain.
  • Smith, George (1865). W. B. Smith (ed.). The History of the Religion of Ancient Britain (Third Revised ed.). London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts and Green. p. 114.