Aristobulus of Britannia

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Aristobulus of Britannia (Full title, in Greek: Aghios Apostolos Aristovoulos, Martyras, kai Protos Episkopos Vretannias; Welsh: Arwystli Hen Episcob Cyntaf Prydain; Latin: Sanctus Aristobulus Senex, Apostolus, Martyr, Episcopus Primus Britanniae; English: Saint Aristibule the Old, Apostle, Martyr, and First Bishop of Britain. Also, Aristobulus, Apostle to Britain) is a saint of Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity, named by Hippolytus of Rome as one of the Seventy Disciples, and the first bishop in Roman Britain.[1]


Pseudo-Hippolytus lists "Aristobulus, bishop of Britain" among the seventy disciples.[1]

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.[2] According to Lionel Smithett Lewis, the writings of St Dorotheus, Bishop of Tyre AD 303, assert that he is the one saluted by Paul in the Epistle to the Romans.[3] :118–121


Orthodox tradition say he was the brother of the Apostle Barnabas, of Jewish Cypriot origin, and like Barnabas accompanied Saint Paul on his journeys.[4] He was one of the assistants of Saint Andrew,[5] along with Urban of Macedonia, Stachys, Ampliatus, Apelles of Heraklion and Narcissus of Athens. On his missionary journey to Britain, he stopped to preach to the Celtiberians of northern Hispania.[5] Catholic tradition identifies Aristobulus with Zebedee, father of James and John.[6]

Aristobulus preached and died in Roman Britain.[4] Where orthodox tradition says he "died in peace",[7] Catholic tradition says he was martyred.[6] The Benedictine monk Serenus de Cressy (1605–1674) maintained that Aristobulus was ordained by St. Paul and died at Glastonbury Abbey in 99 AD; 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.[3] Alford gives his death as "the second year of Nero" – 56 AD.[8] Alford also asserts that "It is perfectly certain that, before St Paul had come to Rome, Aristobulus was away in Britain".[9][10] This is in accord with the date given by Gildas the Wise (425–512 AD) that the "Light of Christ" shone in Britain in the last year of Emperor Tiberias (37 AD).[11] However, George Smith points out that this a misinterpretation of Gildas, and says that the Gospel was not preached in Britain before the reign of Claudius.[12]

It seems from these traditions that Aristobulus was the founder of British Christianity (probably at Glastonbury). While Joseph of Arimathea, or members of his group, may have been involved, the early writings frequently centre on Aristobulus.[3] However, there is no mention of Joseph prior to the Conquest. For this, and other reasons, Smith considers the account of Joseph of Arimathea little more than a "superstitious fable of comparatively modern invention".[13]


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.[14]

There is a tradition linking him to one of the medieval Welsh saints Arwstyl ap Cunedda.[15] The title "Arwystli Hen" [3]:119 may have originated through a later British tradition.

Herodian parallels[edit]

Close family of Aristobulus of Britain

Aristobulus of Chalcis was the son of Herod of Chalcis and Mariamme, the daughter of Olympias.[16] He married Salome, the daughter of Herod II and Herodias.[17] They had three sons: Herod, Agrippa, and Aristobulus.[18] Their offspring are given in the accompanying chart. This latter Aristobulus could have been the Aristobulus of Britannia, as claimed by Lewis,[19] and referred to by Cressy (see previous section). However, it is this man's father who was husband of Salome, as mentioned by Alford (see previous section).

In 55 AD, 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,[20] an area he continued to rule until 72 AD when Vespasian reduced the regional autonomy of some of the provinces.[12]

These possibilities put Salome "of the Seven Veils" in an entirely new light! It may explain why Alford surnamed her "Mary".

Given this likelihood, it is possible that the Herods "Timothy" and "Philip" (mentioned above) are those mentioned in the New Testament.

The Christianity of these people could best be described as "Jesus Movement" or "of the Seventy Disciples", rather than "Orthodox".


In the Eastern Orthodox Church liturgical calendar, Aristobulus' personal feast day is 15 March.[4] He is also one of the saints commemorated on 4 January (feast of the Seventy Disciples)[21] and on 31 October (feast of the assistants of Saint Andrew).[7]

In the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, his feast is 15 March.[6]


  1. ^ a b Pseudo-Hippolytus. "Church Fathers: On the Apostles and Disciples". New Advent. Retrieved 15 July 2012. 
  2. ^ Carrington, Philip (2011-08-11). The Early Christian Church: Volume 1, The First Christian Church. Cambridge University Press. p. 149. ISBN 9780521166416. Retrieved 15 July 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d Smithett Lewis, Lionel (1955). St Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury. London: James Clarke & Co. 
  4. ^ a b c "Apostle Aristobulus of the Seventy the Bishop of Britain". Calendar of Saints. Orthodox Church in America. Retrieved 15 July 2012. 
  5. ^ a b "Saint Aristobulus, Apostle of Britain", Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries
  6. ^ a b c "St. Aristobulus". Saints & Angels. Catholic Online. Retrieved 15 July 2012. 
  7. ^ a b "Apostle Aristobulus of the Seventy". Calendar of Saints. Orthodox Church in America. Retrieved 15 July 2012. 
  8. ^ Lewis p.120.
  9. ^ Lewis pp.14–15.
  10. ^ "Regia Fides" vol.1, p.19.
  11. ^ Lewis p.19.
  12. ^ a b Smith, George. The History of the Religion of Ancient Britain, 3rd ed., (revised and edited by W.B.Smith), p.114, Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts and Green, London,1865
  13. ^ Smith, p.119.
  14. ^ Williams, John. The Ecclesiastical Antiquities of the Cymry, 1844
  15. ^ Baring-Gould, S.; Fisher, John (2005-06-30). The Lives of the British Saints: The Saints of Wales, Cornwall and Irish Saints. Kessinger Publishing. p. 175. ISBN 9780766186798. Retrieved 15 July 2012. 
  16. ^ Flavius, Josephus (1965). Antiquities of the Jews (Loeb Classical Library ed.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 
  17. ^ Antiquities xvii: 137 ; xx: 13, 104
  18. ^ Antiquities xviii: 137
  19. ^ Lewis p.121
  20. ^ Tacitus, Annals, XIII.7; XIV.26
  21. ^ "Apostle Aristobulus of the Seventy". Calendar of Saints. Orthodox Church in America. Retrieved 15 July 2012.