Attracted by the sound of a train passing over the bridge just before entering the station at Lichfield City, I noticed the image on the shield on the side of the bridge and reminded of the story of how Lichfield got its name. As we will see, a very wrong story resulting in it still popularly being said to refer to the 'field of corpses'.
For years records suggested this place name described the 'grey battle field' and, when asked which battle, pointed to a 7th century conflict reported by one Caer Lwydgoed who stated the Welsh of Powys captured 1,500 cattle, 80 horses and five bondsmen in a raid. Now the problem here is the writer lived quite some time after the 7th century. Furthermore, he was Welsh and would never have written anything about it should the Welsh of Powys returned home beaten and empty handed - remember the victors write the histories.
During the Middle Ages the origin was said to be Middle English lic feld or 'the open land of corpses'. When questioned about where and when the corpses came into the story, recorders either pointed to the aforemention 7th century battle or to a report by Matthew Paris. It seems 999 Christians were slaughtered here on the order of the Roman Emperor Doicletian. Problem is Mr Paris of St Albans Abbey wrote his report in 1259, rather later than the events he was writing about. Putting this into perspective, Paris is writing almost 750 years ago and a long way back in history as you will surely agree. However he is describing an event which supposedly occurred more than twice that long ago, for Diocletian died in 305 and more than a thousand years earlier.
So how does the story continue to be told? Take a look at the shield depicted on the bridge. It is a depiction of this story of the death of 999 Christians and a copy of an image on the city's seal. In 1549, already 300 years after Mr Paris, the new city corporation adopted the image we see on the seal. More than a century later the corporation repeated the story of the murdered armies of three Christian kings. This was repeated yet again in the 19th century and seems will never go away.
The true origin of the name is 'the grey open land' and indeed has exactly the same origin as that of Letocetum, although today this name is associated with the nearby Roman remains found at Wall on Watling Street.
Further evidence of the nonsense of the Christian armies theory can be seen in the lack of an organised Christian faith in Britain at the time. While Christianity is rightly associated with the mission of Augustine in 597 AD, the Christian faith had had followers since the 1st century AD in the form of the Roman traders and artisans who came to our islands. Yet this was simply one of the untold Roman cults and not an overly popular one as it is monotheistic and frowned upon by the Romans meaning they had to worship in secret. Note also the Roman Empire was effectively Christian after Constantine converted in 313 - but still this is eight years after the latest possible date of the slaughter of three Christian armies.