Britonia (which became Bretoña in Galician) is the historical, apparently Latinized name of a Celtic settlement by Britons on the Iberian peninsula following the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain. The area is roughly analogous to the northern parts of the modern provences of A Coruña and Lugo in the autonomous community of Galicia, Spain.


Britonia was established in the Germanic Kingdom of the Suebi, in the Roman Gallaecia, northwestern Hispania, in the late 5th and early 6th centuries AD by Romano-Britons moving away from the Anglo-Saxons, who were conquering Britain. Britonia is therefore similar to Brittany in Gaul (present-day France), in that it was settled by expatriate Britons at roughly the same time.

Britons may have occupied a pre-existing Celtic hill fort or castro. Galleacia had earlier been inhabited by Celts, before the arrival of the Germanic Suebi.

Modern place-names that reflect this history include the villages of Bretonia in the province of Lugo and Bretoña in the province of Pontevedra.

Ecclesiastical history

What little is known of Britonia is deduced from its religious history. The British settlements were recognised at the First Council of Lugo in 569 and a separate bishopric established, on territory split off from the then Metropolitan Archdiocese of Lugo. Mailoc was nominated Bishop of Britonia and signed the acta at the Second Council of Braga in 572.

The British Celtic settlements were quickly integrated and their adherence to Celtic rite lasted only until the Fourth Council of Toledo in 633 decreed the now so-called Visigothic or Mozarabic rite as the standard liturgy of Hispania.

The diocese was suppressed in 716. The line of (errant?) bishops of Britonia nevertheless existed at least until 830, when the area was attacked by the Vikings; it may have continued as late as the Council of Oviedo in 900.

It was finally restored as or merged into the Diocese of Mondoñedo-Ferrol in 866, being assigned territories split off from the Diocese of Oviedo and from the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Lugo (since 1071 a suffragan of Santiago de Compostela).

Resident Bishops of Bretoña

Known bishops of the ecclesia Brittaniensis include:
  • Mailoc (Second Council of Braga, 572 – death ?)
  • Metopius (Fourth Council of Toledo, 633)
  • Sonna (Seventh Council of Toledo, 646 – 653?)
  • Susa (Eighth Council of Toledo, 653 – ?675)
  • Bela (Third Council of Braga, 675–?)

    Titular see

    No longer a residential bishopric, Britonia is today listed by the Catholic Church as a titular see.

    The diocese was nominally restored in 1969 as Latin Titular bishopric of Britonia (also Curiate Italian) / Britonien(sis) (Latin adjective).

    It has had the following incumbents, so far secular priests of the fitting Episcopal (lowest) rank:
  • Eugene O’Callaghan (28 November 1969 – resigned 26 January 1971), on emeritate as former Bishop of Clogher (Ireland) (30 January 1943 – 28 November 1969), died 1973
  • John Brewer (31 May 1971 – 22 May 1985), first as Auxiliary Bishop of Diocese of Shrewsbury (England, UK) (31 May 1971 – 17 November 1983), then as Coadjutor Bishop of Lancaster (England) (17 November 1983 – 22 May 1985); later succeeded as Bishop of Lancaster (22 May 1985 – death 10 June 2000)
  • Edward Joseph O’Donnell (6 December 1983 – 8 November 1994) as Auxiliary Bishop of Archdiocese of Saint Louis (USA) (6 December 1983 – 8 November 1994); later Bishop of Lafayette in Louisiana (USA) (8 November 1994 – retired 8 November 2002); died 2009
  • Paweł Cieślik (3 December 1994 – now), as former Auxiliary Bishop of Diocese of Koszalin–Kołobrzeg (Poland) (3 December 1994 – 19 September 2012) and as emeritate (3 December 1994 – now)