Just in time for Easter, volunteers at the Museum of London’s Archaeological Archive (MOLA) have unearthed a rare example of Christian symbolism from Roman Britain.
The symbol, etched onto a piece of Oxfordshire produced pottery dating to the 4th Century AD, is a chi-rho, a monogram of chi (X) and rho (P); the first two letters of the Greek Khristos Christ.
The object was originally excavated in 1970 during excavations at Brentford High Street in West London, but there is no record of it being noticed at the time. Museum volunteers came across the object whilst sorting through hundreds of other pottery shards from the excavation.
“At first we noticed there was some sort of mark on the pot and then quickly realised the significance of what we had”, said Archaeology Collections Manager, Adam Corsini. “Christian symbols from the Roman period are rare, especially from sites within Londinium’s surrounding Hinterland and there are only a few examples within our collections relating to London. Although we can’t say from one object that Roman London and its Hinterland were practising Christianity, it does suggest that Christians were at least present at some point in 4th Century Roman Brentford.”
The 1970 excavation in Brentford was one of several in the area during the late 1960s / 1970s, during a programme of road widening and rebuilding in Brentford’s town centre. The excavations discovered the line of the Roman road heading out from Londinium to the west of Britain and started to shed light on the town that developed from the construction of this road to Silchester. It is assumed that the town would have exploited the trade route, providing for the needs of any who passed through and other artefacts from the excavations include over 100 coins, a dozen brooches, jet jewellery and a spout for a bronze bowl in the shape of a dog.
Now that it has gained unexpected significance, the object has gone on display at the Museum of London for the first time since it was discovered in the 1970s.