Log in
    

St. Augustine of Canterbury

Saint Augustine in His Study by Sandro Botticelli, 1480, Chiesa di Ognissanti, Florence, Italy Saint Augustine in His Study by Sandro Botticelli, 1480, Chiesa di Ognissanti, Florence, Italy
Although the Christian faith had been introduced in the British Isles prior to his arrival in 596, it is St. Augustine of Canterbury who is known as the “Apostle of England.” This extraordinarily human saint, whose missionary activity turned out to be surprisingly modern, established, in a mere eight years, a Christian presence in that island nation that persists to the present day.
 
This does not mean, however, that Augustine met with no difficulties.  A monk and abbot of St. Andrew’s Abbey in Rome, he likely thought – as did many of his contemporaries – that he would live out his days quietly in that position.  However, Pope St. Gregory I, who had founded the abbey, had different ideas; he called upon Augustine and 40 of his monks to leave Italy in order to evangelize the Christians of “Angle-land” and to convert the pagans they encountered there.
 
The group had gotten as far as Gaul (present-day France) when tales of the savagery of the Anglo-Saxons and the dangers of crossing the English Channel frightened them enough to cause them to return to Rome.  There, Gregory assured Augustine that he and his monks would not meet with the dire consequences they had heard about, and so they were sent off on their journey once more.
 
This time, they arrived in England and landed at Kent, which was then under the rule of King Ethelbert.  Although the king was a pagan, his wife, Bertha, was a Christian, and so the missionaries were greeted with kindness rather than cruelty; the king allowed them to settle in and preach the faith from Canterbury.  Within the year, Ethelbert had converted but, unlike many other kings of his time, did not require his subjects to do so unless they wished to.
 
Following the advice of Pope Gregory, Augustine’s method of conversion did not set out to destroy pagan culture, but to build on it. Rather than raze the temples dedicated to other gods, for instance, he “converted” them to the worship of Christ.   Pagan festivals were transformed into Christian feasts and, wherever possible, Augustine retained the local traditions of the people.   Apparently these actions, coupled with the example of the king, were enough to convince many Anglo-Saxons that they, too, should be baptized.  As the faith spread, Augustine built a church and a monastery near where the present-day Canterbury cathedral still stands, and soon established sees in London and Rochester.
 
Although he was somewhat successful with the pagans he encountered, Augustine did not fare as well with evangelizing Briton Christians, who had been driven into western England when the Anglo-Saxons had invaded nearly 150 years earlier.  Separated as they had been from Rome, many of the practices Briton Christians had evolved during that period were now at variance with the wider Church.  This, combined with their lingering bitterness toward the Anglo-Saxons, made it nearly impossible for Augustine to convince them to change.
 
Augustine died in 605; the patron of England, his feast day is May 27.
 
 
Sources for these articles include:
 
 
www.americancatholic.org
 
www.catholiconline.com
 
Clifford, Cornelius. "St. Augustine of Canterbury." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907.
 
“Saint Augustine of Canterbury“. CatholicSaints.Info. 9 October 2016.
 
Schreck, Alan.  “The Compact History of the Catholic Church.”  Ohio: Servant Books, 1987.
 
 
 
 
Last modified onMonday, 23 January 2017 12:49
Kay Winchester

Kay Winchester lives and works in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York.

More in this category: « St. Dominic of Silos St. Pius V »
Bishop's Fund Annual Appeal