Saint Augustine of Canterburyadmin | 26 May 2011
The collect for today, the Feast of St. Augustine (d. c. 605), first Archbishop of Canterbury (source):
O Lord our God, who by thy Son Jesus Christ didst call thine apostles and send them forth to preach the Gospel to the nations: We bless thy holy name for thy servant Augustine, first Archbishop of Canterbury, whose labors in propagating thy Church among the English people we commemorate today; and we pray that all whom thou dost call and send may do thy will, and bide thy time, and see thy glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Celtic Christianity had taken root in Britain and Ireland by the end of the third century. In the fifth century, however, Britain was overrun by non-Christian invaders from northern Europe: the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes.
In 596, Pope Gregory the Great chose Augustine, prior of a monastery at Rome, to head a mission to convert the pagan English. After Gregory consecrated Augustine bishop, the missionary party landed in Kent in 597. The dominant ruler of Anglo-Saxon England was the heathen King Ethelbert of Kent, whose wife Bertha was a Christian princess of the Franks. The king, although initially uninterested in Christianity, allowed Augustine and his companions to live in his territory and freely preach the gospel. Within four years, the king and several thousand of his people had been converted and baptised.
After his consecration as archbishop, Augustine built the first cathedral at Canterbury. Pope Gregory had initially planned to organise the church in England with metropolitan sees at the old Roman centres of London and York. London, however, was in the hands of a hostile king, and Canterbury was therefore chosen as Augustine’s seat. The people of London were later brought to the faith through the preaching of Augustine’s companion Mellitus.
Augustine established a monastery just outside Canterbury’s city walls, originally dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul and later known as St. Augustine’s.
Augustine tried but failed to secure the co-operation of Celtic bishops in evangelisation of the Anglo-Saxons. Beyond south-east England, missionary efforts unrelated to Augustine’s were successful in converting the English. The most important of these was the Celtic mission from Iona.
Augustine also helped Ethelbert to write the earliest surviving Anglo-Saxon laws.
Click here for St Augustine’s page at the website of The Archbishop of Canterbury.