The Isle of Wight was a late convert to Christianity. Bede’s account of its conversion shows it to have been a bloody episode.
The Isle of Wight was known to the Romans as Vectis, from which its modern name is derived. After the fall of Roman Britain, the island was invaded by the pagan Jutes.
Two-hundred years later, however, the Christian Saxons of Wessex took possession, bringing religion and the sword in equal measure.
The Northumbrian scholar and monk Bede (673 – 735) never travelled as far south as the Isle of Wight, but made great efforts in his history of England to check his facts and sources.
This account is from Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of England.
Christianity arrives on the Isle of Wight, 686AD
CHAP. XVI. How the Isle of Wight received Christian inhabitants, and two royal youths of that island were killed immediately after Baptism. [686 AD] .
After Caedwalla had obtained possession of the kingdom of the Gewissae [later Wessex], he took also the Isle of Wight, which till then was entirely given over to idolatry, and by merciless slaughter endeavoured to destroy all the inhabitants thereof, and to place in their stead people from his own province; binding himself by a vow, though it is said that he was not yet regenerated in Christ, to give the fourth part of the land and of the spoil to the Lord, if he took the island. He fulfilled this vow by giving the same for the service of the Lord to Bishop Wilfrid, who happened at the time to have come thither from his own people. The measure of that island, according to the computation of the English, is of twelve hundred families, wherefore an estate of three hundred families was given to the Bishop. The part which he received, he committed to one of his clerks called Bernwin, who was his sister’s son, assigning to him a priest, whose name was Hiddila, to administer the Word and layer of life to all that would be saved.
Here I think it ought not to be omitted that, as the first fruits of those of that island who believed and were saved, two royal boys, brothers to Arwald, king of the island, were crowned with the special grace of God. For when the enemy approached, they made their escape out of the island, and crossed over into the neighbouring province of the Jutes. Coming to the place called At the Stone, they thought to be concealed from the victorious king, but they were betrayed and ordered to be killed. This being made known to a certain abbot and priest, whose name was Cynibert, who had a monastery not far from there, at a place called Hreutford, [Redbridge] that is, the Ford of Reeds, he came to the king, who then lay in concealment in those parts to be cured of the wounds which he had received whilst he was fighting in the Isle of Wight, and begged of him, that if the boys must needs be killed, he might be allowed first to instruct them in the mysteries of the Christian faith. The king consented, and the bishop having taught them the Word of truth, and cleansed them in the font of salvation, assured to them their entrance into the kingdom of Heaven . Then the executioner came, and they joyfully underwent the temporal death, through which they did not doubt they were to pass to the life of the soul, which is everlasting. Thus, after this manner, when all the provinces of Britain had received the faith of Christ, the Isle of Wight also received the same; yet because it was suffering under the affliction of foreign subjection, no man there received the office or see of a bishop, before Daniel, who is now bishop of the West Saxons .
The island is situated opposite the borders of the South Saxons and the Gewissae, being separated from it by a sea, three miles wide, which is called Solvente [the Solent ]. In this sea, the two tides of the ocean, which break upon Britain all round its coasts from the boundless northern ocean, daily meet in conflict beyond the mouth of the river Homelea [The Hamble], which runs into the aforesaid sea, through the lands of the Jutes, belonging to the country of the Gewissae; and after this struggle of the tides, they fall back and return into the ocean whence they come.
Source: Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of England, a revised translation with introduction, life and notes by A M Sellar (George Bell and Sons, 1907).
Available in full at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.