ON Tuesday, it was May 26, which in the calendar of the Church of England is kept as a reminder
ON Tuesday, it was May 26, which in the calendar of the Church of England is kept as a reminder of the life and work of Augustine of Canterbury and his mission to England.
What do we know about him?
In 596 Pope Gregory made him a bishop and chose him to lead a group of 30 monks to evangelise the Anglo–Â Saxons.
This party landed at Ebbsfleet and were cautiously received by Ethelbert, King of Kent, who gave Augustine a house in Canterbury and allowed them to preach but wanted time to consider their message before becoming a Christian himself.
By 601 many people, including Ethelbert, had been baptised and more clergy were sent from Rome.
Augustine built the first cathedral in Canterbury and included married clerks as well as priests on its staff. He founded a monastery later called St Augustine’s and a see at Rochester and his arrangements were closely modelled on those of Rome. Later he also established a see at London.
He hoped to secure the Â co–operation of English bishops in the evangelisation of the Anglo–Saxons but he was not successful.
Early writers have suggested that Gregory rather than Augustine was regarded as the “apostle of the English”.
Authentic correspondence between them shows that Augustine was the “man in the field” doing the wishes of his superior, indicating Gregory’s wisdom and Augustine’s inexperience. We see Augustine setting up a metropolitan see in Canterbury rather than London, which Gregory had expected.
He placed Augustine in charge of the southern province with powers to arrange a northern one based at York with 12 bishops in each area.
We see Augustine helping Ethelbert to draft the earliest Anglo–Saxon laws. We also see Augustine establish a school at Canterbury.
A 6th century manuscript called the Gospels of St Augustine could well have been brought by him to England. It is now in the keeping of Corpus Christie College Cambridge and is used at the enthronement of every Archbishop of Canterbury.
During his lifetime, Augustine was reputed to be a miracle worker and the importance of his relics necessitated the rebuilding of Augustine’s monastery, where he was buried.
Scholars are agreed that Augustine, though a monk, was not a Benedictine.
Such then is the history of Augustine of Canterbury, who died in 604. For his early work in establishing Christianity in the UK we still can give many thanks to God.
Much of his ministry is unknown but ought not to be!