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Britonia (which became Bretoña in Galician and Spanish) is the name of a Romano-British settlement on the northern coast of the Iberian peninsula at the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain. The area is roughly that of the northern parts of the modern provinces of A Coruña and Lugo in the autonomous community of Galicia, Spain.

Map of Briton settlements in the 6th-century.


Britonia was established in the Germanic Kingdom of the Suebi, in Gallaecia, northwestern Hispania, in the late 5th and early 6th centuries AD by Romano-Britons. Britonia is therefore similar to Brittany, in Gaul (present-day France), by being settled by expatriate Britons at roughly the same time. However, unlike in Brittany, the Celts settling in the Iberian Britonia were soon assimilated and completely lost their original language.

The Britons may have occupied a pre-existing hill fort or castro.[1] Gallaecia had earlier been inhabited by the Gallaeci peoples, before the arrival of the Germanic Suebi.[2]

Modern place-names that reflect this history include the villages of Bretoña in the province of Lugo and Bretonia in the province of Pontevedra.[3]

Ecclesiastical history[edit]

What little is known of Britonia is deduced from its religious history - which is a very uncertain guide as to how long it retained a Celtic linguistic and cultural character. The British settlements were recognised at the First Council of Lugo in 569 and a separate bishopric established, on territory split off from the then Metropolitan Archdiocese of Lugo. Mailoc was nominated Bishop of Britonia and signed the acta at the Second Council of Braga in 572.

The establishment of the episcopal see of the Britons in Gallaecia was more probably not because of a migration, but only because a group of Christians, led by their bishop, must have taken refuge in a place near the coast of Lugo, where they would establish and organize a personal episcopal see, which later reached a territorial demarcation.[4] For this reason the diocese it was mentioned in the "Suevo Parish" as Ad sedem Britonorum ecclesiae quae sunt intro Britones una cum Monasterio Maximi et quae sunt in Asturiis. Established in Britonia, the capital of the diocese, regardless of its origin and provenance, its bishops appear in conciliar documents from the 6th century on.[4] For example, Mailoc is among those who participated in the II Bracarense Council held in the year 572, and as its headquarters "was erected shortly before ... Mailoc signed last as least ancient".[4] His successors attended other councils in Toledo and Braga : Errnerico participated in the III of Toledo signing, in 589, as bishop Laniobrense; Metopio attended the next one in 633; at VII, Sonna, who was already consecrated in 646 and who sent the priest Materico to the following council, in 653. In 675 Bishop Bela participated in the III Bracarense Council and then the title of Britonian appears for the last time, since Brandila and Suniagisido, who attended the XIII and XVI Councils of Toledo in the years 683 and 693, sign as Laniobrense bishops.(...)"[4]

The British Celtic settlements[citation needed] were quickly integrated and their adherence to Celtic rite lasted only until the Fourth Council of Toledo in 633 decreed the now so-called Visigothic or Mozarabic rite as the standard liturgy of Hispania.

The diocese was suppressed in 716. The line of (errant?) bishops of Britonia nevertheless existed at least until 830, when the area was attacked by the Vikings; it may have continued as late as the Council of Oviedo in 900.

It was finally restored as or merged into the Diocese of Mondoñedo-Ferrol in 866, being assigned territories split off from the Diocese of Oviedo and from the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Lugo (since 1071 a suffragan of Santiago de Compostela).

Resident Bishops of Bretoña[edit]

Known bishops of the ecclesia Brittaniensis include:

"Bishop Mailoc is the only Britonian prelate who has a Celtic name (= "great"). The other known bishops always bear Latin or Germanic names.(...)".[5]

Titular see[edit]

No longer a residential bishopric, Britonia is today listed by the Catholic Church as a titular see.[6]

The diocese was nominally restored in 1969 as Latin Titular bishopric of Britonia (also Curiate Italian) / Britonien(sis) (Latin adjective).

It has had the following incumbents, so far secular priests of the fitting Episcopal (lowest) rank:[7]

  • Eugene O’Callaghan (28 November 1969 – resigned 26 January 1971), on emeritate as former Bishop of Clogher (Ireland) (30 January 1943 – 28 November 1969), died 1973
  • John Brewer (31 May 1971 – 22 May 1985), first as Auxiliary Bishop of Diocese of Shrewsbury (England, UK) (31 May 1971 – 17 November 1983), then as Coadjutor Bishop of Lancaster (England) (17 November 1983 – 22 May 1985); later succeeded as Bishop of Lancaster (22 May 1985 – death 10 June 2000)
  • Edward Joseph O’Donnell (6 December 1983 – 8 November 1994) as Auxiliary Bishop of Archdiocese of Saint Louis (USA) (6 December 1983 – 8 November 1994); later Bishop of Lafayette in Louisiana (USA) (8 November 1994 – retired 8 November 2002); died 2009
  • Paweł Cieślik (3 December 1994 – now), as former Auxiliary Bishop of Diocese of Koszalin–Kołobrzeg (Poland) (3 December 1994 – 19 September 2012) and as emeritate (3 December 1994 – now)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Snyder, Christopher A. (15 April 2008). "A people divided". The Britons. Wiley. pp. 142–5. ISBN 9780470758212.
  2. ^ Alberro, Manuel (2008). "Celtic Legacy in Galicia". E-Keltoi: Journal of Interdisciplinary Celtic Studies. 6: 20.
  3. ^ Young, Simon (2001). "Note on Britones in Thirteenth-century Galicia". Studia Celtica. XXXV: 361–2.
  4. ^ a b c d Ramón Yzquierdo Perrín, Universidade da Coruña, I Congreso do Patrimonio da Diocesis de Mondoñedo, 2000
  5. ^ José Miguel Novo Güisán, Los pueblos vasco-cantábricos y galaicos en la Antigüedad Tardía, siglos III-IX, Universidad de Alcalá de Henares, Servicio de Publicaciones, 1992 : "(...) el obispo Mailoc, único prelado de Britonia que tiene nombre céltico ( = "grande"). Los demás obispos conocidos llevan siempre nombres latinos o germánicos.(...)
  6. ^ Annuario Pontificio 2013 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2013 ISBN 978-88-209-9070-1), p. 853
  7. ^ "Titular See of Bretoña, Spain". GCatholic.
  • Richards, Melville, "Mailoc", Habis, III, 1972, p. 159.
  • Tovar, António, "Un obispo con nombre británico y los orígenes de la diócesis de Mondoñedo", Habis, III, 1972, pp. 155–158.
  • Vives, J., Concilios visigóticos e hispano-romanos, Madrid, 1963.
  • Young, Simon (Summer 2003). "The Bishops of the early medieval diocese of Britonia". Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies (45): 1–20.
  • Young, Simon, "The Forgotten Colony", History Today, L, Oct. 2000, pp. 5–6.
  • Young, Simon, Britonia: Camiños Novos, Noia, 2002. ISBN 84-95622-58-0. (in Galician)

External links[edit]