The Catholic faith first came to Britain in Roman Times. St Alban, our first martyr, probably suffered in the year A.D. 209. Three bishops from Britain attended the Council at Arles in A.D. 314.
In 597 St Augustine came from Rome to convert the pagan Angles, Saxons and Jutes who had invaded and settled in Britain after the departure of the Romans. His work of conversion was concentrated largely in the kingdoms of Kent and Essex. It was not until some thirty-eight years later that the area covered by our present diocese received the Christian message, with the arrival of the missionary St Birinus and the foundation of his see at Dorchester on Thames on 636. But the real evangelisation of the people who dwelt in our district, the Middle Angles, was achieved though the labours and missionaries from the isle of Lindisfarne, off the Northumbrian coast. Notable among them was St Chad, whose see, established at Lichfield in 669, included the present diocese of Northampton.
A few years later, to meet local needs, Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury divided the Mercian see of Lichfield and founded the diocese of Leicester for the Middle Angles. There it remained until the ninth century when the disruption caused by the Scandinavian invasions necessitated its transference to the safer original site at Dorchester on Thames. With a major reorganisation of the diocesan system in the Norman period, the ancient see at Dorchester was brought to an end. In 1072, Remigius, its last bishop, was translated to Lincoln, under whose jurisdiction the territory of the present diocese was to remain for many centuries.
From the time of the Reformation until 1850, Roman Catholic Dioceses ceased to exist in Britain. As a result of heroic sacrifice by clergy and the laity alike, the Faith remained alive and from 1685 to 1850 was governed by Vicars Apostolic, who reported to the Cardinal Prefect of the Roman Congregation of Propaganda Fidei.
On 29 September 1850 by Letters Apostolic, issued by Pope Pius IX, the English Hierarchy was restored, and the diocese of Northampton came into being, covering not only the area of the present Diocese but the whole of East Anglia.
On 13 March 1976, by the decree Quod Ecumenicum, Pope Paul VI formed the diocese of East Anglia for the counties of Cambridge, Norfolk and Suffolk. The territory left to the diocese of Northampton covers Bedfordshire, the old county of Buckinghamshire including the Slough area, and Northamptonshire.
* * * * * * * * * * *
A recording of a 55-minute talk on the History of the Diocese, given by your Webmaster at the English Catholic History Association meeting in High Wycombe in April 2011 is available to listen to, on their website here - at the moment it is about the twenty-third item down. As delivered, it was supported by slides and maps, showing the foundations of churches (and their more recent closures) from 1750 to 2011, but an audio-only version may still be of some interest. I am willing to come and deliver this visual presentation in any parishes or Pastoral Areas. E-mail here.