Archbishop Desmond Tutu

The fish symbol and ichthys label f Early Christians used secret symbols to help them communicate and worship without persecution. One way of encoding Jesus's name was the fish symbol - the Greek word for fish, ichthys, can also stand for "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour". After ad 313, Christians were allowed to worship in public by imperial decree, yet many of these coded signs are still used in Church iconography today.

f Martin Luther (1483-1546), renowned for igniting the Protestant movement, also contributed to the popularization of the Church by translating the Bible into his native German (at a rate of more than 1,500 words per day) and writing some of Christianity's most popular hymns.

fin the 2001 UK census, 72 per cent of Britons identified themselves as Christian, although only 7 per cent are regular church-goers. Anglicans and Catholics make up the two largest groups.

t Since the 4th century, bishops have worn purple as a symbol of their status. Purple, made from an expensive dye, was once worn only by the Roman emperor and senators. The bishops' purple sash showed that they had the same status as Roman senators.

fin the 5th century, the monk Dionysius the Short introduced a new Christian calendar centred around the date of Jesus's birth, using the terms AD (Anno Domini or Year of our Lord) and bc (Before Christ). This calendar is still used today, even though Dionysius had Jesus's birthday wrong by at least three years. Sometimes bce (Before the Common Era) and ce (Common Era) are used instead.

f Roughly two billion Christians make up a third of the world's population. As the number of practising Christians in Europe and America (mostly Protestant) declines, Christianity's centre is shifting to the Southern hemisphere of Africa, Latin America, and Asia (mostly Catholic and Pentecostal).

fSt Pius I (ad 140-155) was the first bishop of Rome to exercise sole authority over the Church. Before this, the Church was governed by a council of elders or deacons. Until 1073, all bishops had the title pope tThe Catholic Church divides holy relics into three categories. A first-class relic is part of a saint's body or an object directly relating to the events of a sainf s life. A second-class relic is an object or article of clothing owned by a saint. A third-class relic is a piece of cloth touched to the body of a saint after death, or else brought to a saint's shrine.

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St Peter's chains are a first-class relic

Mary in blue robes tAn important duty of early monks was to copy the scriptures by hand onto illuminated (or illustrated) pages. The detailed artwork used pigments made from precious metals and stones, such as gold and lapis lazuli - a stone so rare that its rich blue was reserved for the robes of the Virgin Mary.

What are the sacraments?

How long did it take to build a Gothic cathedral?

Cologne Cathedral


QWhat denominations make up Christianity?

A Christianity is the world's largest religion, followed by Islam and Hinduism. The major Christian denominations include Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Baptists, Anglicans (or Episcopalians), Presbyterians, Lutherans, Pentecostalists, and Methodists. Most share a belief in the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Many of the smaller Protestant sects, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, are centred around their founder's unique interpretation of Jesus's teachings.

Jerry Falwell, a leader of the Christian Right

What is the "Christian Right"?

A The Christian Right is an umbrella term for the American supporters of a fundamental brand of Christianity, which holds very conservative social and political views. They oppose any policies that they see as un-Christian, such as the right to abortion and the teaching of evolution in schools. Through their churches, they influence large numbers of voters to elect and put pressure on governments to turn their values and beliefs into official policy.

7m i

White smoke at the Vatican

How is the pope chosen?

A After a pope's death, cardinals gather at the Vatican to elect a new pope. They cast their votes on paper ballots, which are counted and burned. Black smoke from the chimney signals that no candidate has received a two-thirds majority and the votes are recast. White smoke marks the election of a new pope.

What are the sacraments?

A A sacrament is a Christian rite intended to confer God's grace on the recipient. Seven sacramental rites have been used since the earliest days of the Church. Protestants regard only baptism and the Eucharist (or communion) as sacramental rites. The Catholic and Orthodox churches also consider confirmation, ordination, marriage, confession, and holy unction (or anointing the sick) as sacramental rites.

How long did it take to build a Gothic cathedral?

A The Gothic cathedrals that came into fashion in the 12th century were so massive and ornate that funds often ran out before they could be finished. For this reason, and because of the sheer amount of labour required a church could take centuries to build. Cologne Cathedral in Germany took more than 700 years to complete.

QWhy do the colours on the altar and on a priest's vestments change?

A Every season has its own colour, chosen to suit the mood of the events it commemorates. For example, during Lent, purple is used to remind Christians that they are being asked to make sacrifices and prepare for Easter. On Easter Sunday, white is used to reflect the joyfulness of Christ's resurrection.

Cologne Cathedral

Can any bread become communion?

Communion wafers

Can any bread become communion?

Communion wafers

A A priest's blessing makes any bread suitable for communion. However, most churches choose to use simple, unleavened bread, which is what Jesus would have blessed at the Last Supper.

What are the core beliefs?

A Most denominations agree that a list of core beliefs should include the Trinity (God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit), the deity (godlike nature) of Jesus, his resurrection from the dead, his death as atonement for our sins, and salvation through faith or grace alone. Catholics also stress the sacred nature of Jesus's mother, the Virgin Mary.

Who becomes a saint?

A A saint or holy person is someone who after their death is recognized as having achieved, through their virtuous behaviour or deeds, the right to be worshipped or held up by the community as a role model. Canonization is the process of officially recognizing a person as a saint.

Record Breakers

Largest cathedral

The Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York City measures 36,880 sq m (121,000 sq ft) -the size of two football pitches.

Longest-reigning pope

Some Christians consider St Peter, one of Christ's apostles, to be the longest-reigning pope. He supervised the early Church for over 34 years. Others give the title to Pius IX, who held office for 31 years during the 19th century.

Oldest church

The earliest known church built specifically as a Christian place of worship was found in Aqaba, Jordan. It dates from the late 3rd century.

Most popular hymn

According to an online poll, the most popular hymn is Amazing Grace, which was composed in the 18 th century by John Newton.

Largest Bible

The world's largest Bible is 110 cm (43 >2 in) tall, has a spine that is 86 cm (34 in) wide, and weighs 496 kg (1,094 lb).


Christianity has its roots in the Old Testament books of the Bible with their stories of creation and God's special relationship with the Jewish people. The pivotal event, however, is the birth of Christ. Documents from the early years disagree about some of the dates, so it is not always possible to pin them down exactly. But as this timeline shows, Christianity has helped to shape much of the history of the Western world.

Moses with the Ten Commandments c. 2100 bc

Birth of Judaism. According to the Bible's Book of Genesis, God made a Covenant with Abraham, promising him a new land in Canaan where he would found a great nation, and that the Jews would be God's "chosen people" if they agreed not to worship any other god.

c.1250 bc

Moses leads the Jewish people out of Egypt in the Exodus. He receives the Ten Commandments from God on Mt sinai, en route to Canaan.

37 bc

King Herod is appointed ruler of Judaea, where Jesus will be born. This small province in the Roman Empire includes what is now Israel and the Palestinian territories. Many of Herod's subjects are unhappy with his reign.

31 bc

Octavian, Julius Caesar's adopted son, becomes Augustus, emperor of Rome. Jesus's parents, Joseph and Mary, will travel to Bethlehem for Augustus's census.

Birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.

The Holy Family c. 4 bc

Birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.

The Holy Family ad 70

4 bc

Herod dies and his kingdom is divided among his sons.

John the Baptist, Jesus's cousin, begins his ministry, at the age of 27. Living in the desert, he performs mass baptisms and tries to prepare the people of Jerusalem for the coming of a new Christ, or Messiah.

Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist and begins his ministry. He travels around Galilee and Judaea, preaching a gospel of faith and salvation with the help of his 12 apostles, or disciples.

Jesus is crucified on the orders of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, having been charged with sedition (inciting rebellion against the state).

The Council of Jerusalem, presided over by Peter, decides that many Jewish laws, such as circumcision and dietary restrictions, do not apply to Christian converts.

ad 64-311

Persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire starts with Emperor Nero, who finds them useful scapegoats for the Great Fire of Rome. Their active proselytization (looking for new converts) and allegiance to Christ are seen as a threat to the emperor's authority, since emperors are held up as gods themselves. Many Christians are martyred (killed for their faith), and some will become saints.

ad 70

A fierce Jewish rebellion against Roman rule ends with the Fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. About 600,000 people are killed.

Constantine ad 313

Emperor Constantine converts to Christianity. His Edict of Milan decrees freedom of worship for all Roman subjects.

ad 325

Constantine summons 300 bishops to a Council at Nicaea to draw up the statement of Christian beliefs known as the Nicene Creed. It promotes the idea of the Trinity, or God as three beings in one: Father (God), Son (Jesus), and Holy Spirit (God's continuing presence in the world).

ad 367

Bishop Athanasius authorizes 27 books to be included in the New Testament.

ad 380

Christianity is made the official religion of the Roman Empire.

ad 382-405

Jerome works on the Vulgate, a translation of the Bible from its Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek parts into a single Latin volume.

Pages from a 15th-century Vulgate ad 430

Death of saint Augustine of Hippo, one of the most important figures in the development of Christian beliefs. Author of many works, he promotes key doctrines, such as salvation, grace, and original sin.

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