Saturday, May 27, 2017

Apostle to the English

Today is the feast for St. Augustine of Canterbury. Augustine, born in the sixth century, was the prior of the monastery of St. Andrew (St. Gregory himself was the abbot) in Rome when St. Gregory chose him to be the leader of a band of thirty missionaries to preach the faith in Kent. They were given a letter of introduction for the queen of Kent, St. Aldeberge, also known as St. Bertha, who was a Frankish princess and thus already Christian, as a way of getting their first foot in the door. They were welcomed, and it is because of St. Aldeberge that the primary see of England is Canterbury (Augustine was later instructed to make London his archiepiscopal see, probably because of its Roman roots, but this turned out to be infeasible until long after Canterbury's traditional place had been established). St. Aldeberge gave her private chapel to be a church dedicated to St. Martin of Tours -- and St. Martin's at Canterbury is still there, although, of course, only parts of the church go back to the original after all this time. The missionaries arrived in Kent in 597; King Æthelberht of Kent was converted shortly after. There began to be a significant pagan backlash in the 610s after Æthelberht's death, but by the death of the last missionary in 635, Kent was heavily Christian, and the conversion of the Anglo-Saxon territories had begun. St. Augustine only had time to start the whole thing off; he probably died around 604.

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