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Augustine of Canterbury

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Title: Augustine of Canterbury  
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Subject: Laurence of Canterbury, Mellitus, Gregorian mission, Archbishop of Canterbury, Bede
Collection: 604 Deaths, 6Th-Century Births, 6Th-Century Byzantine People, 6Th-Century Italian People, 7Th-Century Christian Saints, Abbots of St Augustine's, Anglican Saints, Archbishops of Canterbury, Characters in Works by Geoffrey of Monmouth, English People of Italian Descent, English Roman Catholic Saints, Founders of English Schools and Colleges, Gregorian Mission, History of Kent, Italian Benedictines, Italian Roman Catholic Saints, Kentish Saints, Medieval Italian Saints, People from Rome, Saints of the Golden Legend, Year of Birth Missing
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Augustine of Canterbury

Archbishop of Canterbury
Illuminated manuscript with a forward-facing man in the middle of the large H. Man is carrying a crozier and his head is surrounded by a halo.
Portrait labelled "AUGUSTINUS" from the mid-8th century Saint Petersburg Bede, though perhaps intended as Gregory the Great.[1]
Archdiocese Diocese of Canterbury
Appointed before 601
Term ended probably 26 May 604
Predecessor None
Successor Laurence of Canterbury
Other posts prior of Abbey of St Andrew's
Consecration circa 597
Personal details
Born 6th century
Died probably 26 May 604
Canterbury, Kent, England
Buried St Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury
Feast day
  • 26 May (Anglican Communion)
  • 26 May (Eastern Orthodox)
  • 26 May (Roman Catholic Church, Extraordinary Form calendar in Great Britain)
  • 27 May (Roman Catholic Church, Ordinary Form Calendar)
  • 28 May (Roman Catholic Extraordinary Form calendar outside Great Britain)
Venerated in
Canonized Pre-Congregation
by Pre-Congregation

Augustine of Canterbury (first third of the 6th century – probably 26 May 604) was a Benedictine monk who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in the year 597. He is considered the "Apostle to the English" and a founder of the English Church.[3]

Augustine was the prior of a monastery in Rome when Pope Gregory the Great chose him in 595 to lead a mission, usually known as the Gregorian mission, to Britain to Christianize King Æthelberht and his Kingdom of Kent from Anglo-Saxon paganism. Kent was probably chosen because Æthelberht had married a Christian princess, Bertha, daughter of Charibert I the King of Paris, who was expected to exert some influence over her husband. Before reaching Kent the missionaries had considered turning back but Gregory urged them on, and in 597 Augustine landed on the Isle of Thanet and proceeded to Æthelberht's main town of Canterbury.

King Æthelberht converted to Christianity and allowed the missionaries to preach freely, giving them land to found a monastery outside the city walls. Augustine was consecrated as a bishop and converted many of the king's subjects, including thousands during a mass baptism on Christmas Day in 597. Pope Gregory sent more missionaries in 601, along with encouraging letters and gifts for the churches, although attempts to persuade the native Celtic bishops to submit to Augustine's authority failed. Roman bishops were established at London and Rochester in 604, and a school was founded to train Anglo-Saxon priests and missionaries. Augustine also arranged the consecration of his successor, Laurence of Canterbury. The archbishop probably died in 604 and was soon revered as a saint.


  • Background to the mission 1
  • Arrival and first efforts 2
  • Additional work 3
  • Further success 4
  • Death and legacy 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • Citations 8
  • References 9
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11

Background to the mission

After the withdrawal of the Roman legions from their province of Britannia in 410, the inhabitants were left to defend themselves against the attacks of the Saxons. Before the Roman withdrawal Britannia had been converted to Christianity and produced the ascetic Pelagius.[4][5] Britain sent three bishops to the Council of Arles in 314, and a Gaulish bishop went to the island in 396 to help settle disciplinary matters.[6] Material remains testify to a growing presence of Christians, at least until around 360.[7] After the Roman legions departed, pagan tribes settled the southern parts of the island while western Britain, beyond the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, remained Christian. This native British Church developed in isolation from Rome under the influence of missionaries from Ireland[4][5] and was centred on monasteries instead of bishoprics. Other distinguishing characteristics were its calculation of the date of Easter and the style of the tonsure haircut that clerics wore.[5][8] Evidence for the survival of Christianity in the eastern part of Britain during this time includes the survival of the cult of Saint Alban and the occurrence in place names of eccles, derived from the Latin ecclesia, meaning "church".[9] There is no evidence that these native Christians tried to convert the Anglo-Saxons.[10][11] The invasions destroyed most remnants of Roman civilisation in the areas held by the Saxons and related tribes, including the economic and religious structures .[12]

It was against this background that Pope Gregory I decided to send a mission, often called the Gregorian mission, to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity in 595.[13][14] The Kingdom of Kent was ruled by Æthelberht, who married a Christian princess named Bertha before 588,[15] and perhaps earlier than 560.[16] Bertha was the daughter of Charibert I, one of the Merovingian kings of the Franks. As one of the conditions of her marriage, she brought a bishop named Liudhard with her to Kent.[17] Together in Canterbury, they restored a church that dated to Roman times[18]—possibly the current St Martin's Church. Æthelberht was a pagan at this point but allowed his wife freedom of worship. One biographer of Bertha states that under his wife's influence, Æthelberht asked Pope Gregory to send missionaries.[17] The historian Ian Wood feels that the initiative came from the Kentish court as well as the queen.[19] Other historians, however, believe that Gregory initiated the mission, although the exact reasons remain unclear. Bede, an 8th-century monk who wrote a history of the English church, recorded a famous story in which Gregory saw fair-haired Saxon slaves from Britain in the Roman slave market and was inspired to try to convert their people.[2][21] More practical matters, such as the acquisition of new provinces acknowledging the primacy of the papacy, and a desire to influence the emerging power of the Kentish kingdom under Æthelberht, were probably involved.[18] The mission may have been an outgrowth of the missionary efforts against the Lombards who, as pagans and Arian Christians, were not on good relations with the Catholic church in Rome.[22]

Aside from Æthelberht's granting of freedom of worship to his wife, the choice of Kent was probably dictated by a number of other factors. Kent was the dominant power in southeastern Britain. Since the eclipse of King Ceawlin of Wessex in 592, Æthelberht was the leading Anglo-Saxon ruler; Bede refers to Æthelberht as having imperium (overlordship) south of the River Humber. Trade between the Franks and Æthelberht's kingdom was well established, and the language barrier between the two regions was apparently only a minor obstacle, as the interpreters for the mission came from the Franks. Lastly, Kent's proximity to the Franks allowed support from a Christian area.[23] There is some evidence, including Gregory's letters to Frankish kings in support of the mission, that some of the Franks felt that they had a claim to overlordship over some of the southern British kingdoms at this time. The presence of a Frankish bishop could also have lent credence to claims of overlordship, if Bertha's Bishop Liudhard was felt to be acting as a representative of the Frankish church and not merely as a spiritual advisor to the queen. Frankish influence was not merely political; archaeological remains attest to a cultural influence as well.[24]

In 595, Gregory chose Augustine, who was the prior of the Abbey of St Andrew's in Rome, to head the mission to Kent.[13] The pope selected monks to accompany Augustine and sought support from the Frankish royalty and clergy in a series of letters, of which some copies survive in Rome. He wrote to King Theuderic II of Burgundy and to King Theudebert II of Austrasia, as well as their grandmother Brunhild, seeking aid for the mission. Gregory thanked King Chlothar II of Neustria for aiding Augustine. Besides hospitality, the Frankish bishops and kings provided interpreters and Frankish priests to accompany the mission.[25] By soliciting help from the Frankish kings and bishops, Gregory helped to assure a friendly reception for Augustine in Kent, as Æthelbert was unlikely to mistreat a mission which visibly had the support of his wife's relatives and people.[26] Moreover, the Franks appreciated the chance to participate in mission that would extend their influence in Kent. Chlothar, in particular, needed a friendly realm across the Channel to help guard his kingdom's flanks against his fellow Frankish kings.[27]

Sources make no mention of why Pope Gregory chose a monk to head the mission. Pope Gregory once wrote to Æthelberht complimenting Augustine's knowledge of the Bible, so Augustine was evidently well educated. Other qualifications included administrative ability, for Gregory was the abbot of St Andrews as well as being pope, which left the day-to-day running of the abbey to Augustine, the prior.[28]

Arrival and first efforts

Map showing the kingdoms of Dyfed, Powys, and Gwynedd in the west central part of the island of Great Britain. Dumnonia is below those kingdoms. Mercia, Middle Anglia and East Anglia run across the middle of the island from west to east. Below those kingdoms are Wessex, Sussex and Kent, also from west to east. The northern kingdoms are Elmet, Deira, and Bernicia.
Map of the general outlines of some of the British kingdoms about 600

Augustine was accompanied by Laurence of Canterbury, his eventual successor to the archbishopric, and a group of about 40 companions, some of whom were monks.[15] Soon after leaving Rome, the missionaries halted, daunted by the nature of the task before them. They sent Augustine back to Rome to request papal permission to return. Gregory refused and sent Augustine back with letters encouraging the missionaries to persevere.[29] In 597, Augustine and his companions landed in Kent.[15] They achieved some initial success soon after their arrival:[22][28] Æthelberht permitted the missionaries to settle and preach in his capital of Canterbury where they used the church of St Martin's for services.[30] Neither Bede nor Gregory mentions the date of Æthelberht's conversion,[31] but it probably took place in 597.[30][3] In the early medieval period, large-scale conversions required the ruler's conversion first, and Augustine is recorded as making large numbers of converts within a year of his arrival in Kent.[30] Also, by 601, Gregory was writing to both Æthelberht and Bertha, calling the king his son and referring to his baptism.[4] A late medieval tradition, recorded by the 15th-century chronicler Thomas Elmham, gives the date of the king's conversion as Whit Sunday, or 2 June 597; there is no reason to doubt this date, although there is no other evidence for it.[30] Against a date in 597 is a letter of Gregory's to Patriarch Eulogius of Alexandria in June 598, which mentions the number of converts made by Augustine, but does not mention any baptism of the king. However, it is clear that by 601 the king had been converted.[32] His baptism likely took place at Canterbury.[33]

Augustine established his episcopal see at Canterbury.[22] It is not clear when and where Augustine was consecrated as a bishop. Bede, writing about a century later, states that Augustine was consecrated by the Frankish Archbishop Ætherius of Arles after the conversion of Æthelberht. Contemporary letters from Pope Gregory, however, refer to Augustine as a bishop before he arrived in England. A letter of Gregory's from September 597 calls Augustine a bishop, and one dated ten months later says Augustine had been consecrated on Gregory's command by bishops of the German lands.[34] The historian R. A. Markus discusses the various theories of when and where Augustine was consecrated, and suggests he was consecrated before arriving in England, but argues the evidence does not permit deciding exactly where this took place.[35]

Soon after his arrival, Augustine founded the monastery of Saints Peter and Paul, which later became St Augustine's Abbey,[22] on land donated by the king.[36] This foundation has often been claimed as the first Benedictine abbey outside Italy, and that by founding it, Augustine introduced the Rule of St. Benedict into England, but there is no evidence the abbey followed the Benedictine Rule at the time of its foundation.[37] In a letter Gregory wrote to the patriarch of Alexandria in 598, he claimed that more than 10,000 Christians had been baptised; the number may be exaggerated but there is no reason to doubt that a mass conversion took place.[15][28] However, there were probably some Christians already in Kent before Augustine arrived, remnants of the Christians who lived in Britain in the later Roman Empire.[11] Little literary traces remain of them, however.[38] One other effect of the king's conversion by Augustine's mission was that the Frankish influence on the southern kingdoms of Britain was decreased.[39]

After these conversions, Augustine sent Laurence back to Rome with a report of his success, along with questions about the mission.[40] Bede records the letter and Gregory's replies in chapter 27 of his

Catholic Church titles
New title Archbishop of Canterbury
Succeeded by
  • Augustine of Canterbury – entry at Prosopography of Anglo Saxon England project

External links

Further reading

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  • (subscription or UK public library membership required)


  1. ^ Schapiro "Decoration of the Leningrad Manuscript of Bede" Selected Papers: Volume 3 pp. 199; 212–214
  2. ^ Dales "Apostle of the English" L'eredità spirituale di Gregorio Magno tra Occidente e Oriente p. 299
  3. ^ Delaney Dictionary of Saints pp. 67–68
  4. ^ a b Hindley Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons pp. 3–9
  5. ^ a b c Mayr-Harting Coming of Christianity pp. 78–93
  6. ^ Frend "Roman Britain" Cross Goes North pp. 80–81
  7. ^ Frend "Roman Britain" Cross Goes North pp. 82–86
  8. ^ Yorke Conversion of Britain pp. 115–118 discusses the issue of the "Celtic Church" and what exactly it was.
  9. ^ Yorke Conversion of Britain p. 121
  10. ^ Stenton Anglo-Saxon England p. 102
  11. ^ a b Mayr-Harting Coming of Christianity pp. 32–33
  12. ^ Kirby Earliest English Kings p. 23
  13. ^ a b Stenton Anglo-Saxon England pp. 104–105
  14. ^ Jones "Gregorian Mission" Speculum
  15. ^ a b c d Stenton Anglo-Saxon England pp. 105–106
  16. ^ a b Kirby Earliest English Kings pp. 24–25
  17. ^ a b Nelson "Bertha" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  18. ^ a b c d Hindley Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons pp. 33–36
  19. ^ Wood "Mission of Augustine of Canterbury" Speculum pp. 9–10
  20. ^ Bede History of the English Church and People pp. 99–100
  21. ^ Mayr-Harting Coming of Christianity pp. 57–59
  22. ^ a b c d e f Mayr-Harting "Augustine" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  23. ^ Brooks Early History of the Church of Canterbury pp. 6–7
  24. ^ Kirby Earliest English Kings p. 27
  25. ^ Brooks Early History of the Church of Canterbury pp. 4–5
  26. ^ Brooks Early History of the Church of Canterbury p. 6
  27. ^ Wood "Mission of Augustine of Canterbury" Speculum p. 9
  28. ^ a b c Fletcher Barbarian Conversion pp. 116–117
  29. ^ Blair Introduction to Anglo-Saxon England pp. 116–117
  30. ^ a b c d Brooks Early History of the Church of Canterbury pp. 8–9
  31. ^ Wood "Mission of Augustine of Canterbury" Speculum p. 11
  32. ^ a b Kirby Earliest English Kings p. 28
  33. ^ Higham Convert Kings p. 56
  34. ^ Brooks Early History of the Church of Canterbury p. 5
  35. ^ Markus "Chronology of the Gregorian Mission" Journal of Ecclesiastical History pp. 24–29
  36. ^ a b Blair Church in Anglo-Saxon Society pp. 61–62
  37. ^ Lawrence Medieval Monasticism p. 55
  38. ^ Frend "Roman Britain" Cross Goes North p. 79
  39. ^ Kirby Earliest English Kings p. 29
  40. ^ Stenton Anglo-Saxon England p. 106
  41. ^ Lapidge "Laurentius" Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England
  42. ^ a b Bede History of the English Church and People pp. 71–83
  43. ^ Dodwell Anglo-Saxon Art p. 10
  44. ^ Dodwell Anglo-Saxon Art pp. 96 and 276 footnote 66
  45. ^ Colgrave "Introduction" Earliest Life of Gregory the Great pp. 27–28
  46. ^ Lapidge Anglo-Saxon Library pp. 24–25
  47. ^ Brooks Early History of the Church of Canterbury pp. 9–11
  48. ^ Fletcher Barbarian Conversion p. 453
  49. ^ Brooks Early History of the Church of Canterbury pp. 11–14
  50. ^ Hayward "St Justus" Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England pp. 267–268
  51. ^ Lapidge "St Mellitus" Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England pp. 305–306
  52. ^ a b Brooks Early History of the Church of Canterbury p. 50
  53. ^
  54. ^ Bede History of the English Church and People p. 91
  55. ^ Wood "Augustine and Aidan" L'Église et la Mission p. 170
  56. ^ Mayr-Harting Coming of Christianity pp. 70–72
  57. ^ Yorke Conversion of Britain p. 118
  58. ^ a b c Stenton Anglo-Saxon England pp. 110–111
  59. ^ a b Hindley Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons pp. 8–9
  60. ^ Bede History of the English Church and People pp. 100–103
  61. ^ a b Mayr-Harting Coming of Christianity pp. 72–73
  62. ^ Yorke Conversion of Britain p. 119
  63. ^ Thomson Western Church p. 8
  64. ^ Blair Church in Anglo-Saxon Society p. 24
  65. ^ Stenton Anglo-Saxon England pp. 107–108
  66. ^
  67. ^ Brooks Early History of the Church of Canterbury pp. 94–95
  68. ^ Mayr-Harting Coming of Christianity pp. 173–174
  69. ^ Hindley Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons p. 43
  70. ^ Collins Early Medieval Europe p. 185
  71. ^ Mayr-Harting Coming of Christianity p. 249
  72. ^ Mayr-Harting Coming of Christianity pp. 265–266
  73. ^ Wood "Mission of Augustine of Canterbury" Speculum p. 8
  74. ^ Nilson Cathedral Shrines p. 67
  75. ^ Nilson Cathedral Shrines p. 93
  76. ^ Gameson and Gameson "From Augustine to Parker" Anglo-Saxons pp. 17–20
  77. ^ Gameson and Gameson "From Augustine to Parker" Anglo-Saxons p. 19
  78. ^ Gameson and Gameson "From Augustine to Parker" Anglo-Saxons p. 20
  79. ^ Gameson and Gameson "From Augustine to Parker" Anglo-Saxons p. 24
  80. ^ Gameson and Gameson "From Augustine to Parker" Anglo-Saxons pp. 22–31
  81. ^ Blair "Handlist of Anglo-Saxon Saints" Local Saints and Local Churches p. 513
  82. ^
  83. ^
  84. ^


  1. ^ The name is in the halo, in a later hand. The figure is identified as a saint, rather than Christ, by his clerical tonsure.[1] The view that it represents Gregory is set out by Douglas Michaels in a recent article.[2]
  2. ^ Supposedly Gregory inquired about who the slaves were. He was told they were Angles from the island of Great Britain. Gregory replied that they were not Angles, but Angels.[20]
  3. ^ However, Bede's chronology may be a bit off, as he gives the king's death as occurring in February 616, and says the king died 21 years after his conversion, which would date the conversion to 595. This would be before Augustine's mission, and directly contradicts Bede's statement that the king's conversion was due to Augustine's mission.[16] However, as Gregory in his letter of 601 to the king and queen strongly implies that the queen was unable to effect the conversion of her husband, the problem of the dating is likely a chronological error on Bede's part.[32]
  4. ^ The letter, as translated in Brooks' Early History of the Church of Canterbury, p. 8, says "preserve the grace he had received". Grace in this context meant the grace of baptism.
  5. ^ What happened to these items in later years is unknown. Thomas Elmham, a 15th-century chronicler at Canterbury, gave a number of theories of how most of these objects were lost, including being hidden and never recovered during the Danish attacks in the 9th and 10th centuries, hidden and lost after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, or used for the ransom of King Richard I of England in the 1190s.[43] The surviving St Augustine Gospels, (Corpus Christi College, Cambridge manuscript (MS) 286) which is a 6th-century Italian-illuminated Gospel Book, may be one of the works sent to Augustine. Traditionally, it has been associated with the Gregorian mission.[44] Another possible survivor is a copy of the Rule of St Benedict, now MS Oxford Bodleian Hatton 48.[45] Yet another possible survival is a Gospel, in an Italian hand, and closely related to the Augustine Gospels, now MS Oxford Bodelian Auctarium D.2.14, which shows evidence of being held in Anglo-Saxon hands during the right time frame. Lastly, a fragment of a work by Gregory the Great, now held by the British Library as part of MS Cotton Titus C may have arrived with the missionaries.[46]
  6. ^ The actual Latin is from Chapter 33, Book 1 of Bede, and an online version is here. The sentence in question is "AT Augustinus, ubi in regia ciuitate sedem episcopalem, ut praediximus, accepit, recuperauit in ea, regio fultus adminiculo, ecclesiam, quam inibi antiquo Romanorum fidelium opere factam fuisse didicerat, et eam in nomine sancti Saluatoris Dei et Domini nostri Iesu Christi sacrauit, atque ibidem sibi habitationem statuit et cunctis successoribus suis."[53] The Latin word recuperauit could be translated either "repaired" or "recovered". Sherley-Price translates the sentence as "Having been granted his episcopal see in the royal capital, as already recorded, Augustine proceeded with the king's help to repair a church he was informed had been built long ago by Roman Christians."[54]


See also

Augustine's shrine was re-established in March 2012 at the church of St. Augustine in Ramsgate, Kent, very close to the mission's landing site.[82][83] St Augustine's Cross, a Celtic cross erected in 1884, marks the spot in Ebbsfleet, Thanet, East Kent, where Augustine is said to have landed.[84]

A life of Augustine was written by Goscelin around 1090, but this life portrays Augustine in a different light than Bede's account. Goscelin's account has little new historical content, mainly being filled with miracles and imagined speeches.[76] Building on this account, later medieval writers continued to add new miracles and stories to Augustine's life, often quite fanciful.[77] These authors included William of Malmesbury, who claimed that Augustine founded Cerne Abbey,[78] the author (generally believed to be John Brompton) of a late medieval chronicle containing invented letters from Augustine,[79] and a number of medieval writers who included Augustine in their romances.[80] Another problem with investigating Augustine's saintly cult is the confusion resulting because most medieval liturgical documents mentioning Augustine do not distinguish between Augustine of Canterbury and Augustine of Hippo, a fourth-century saint. Medieval Scandinavian liturgies feature Augustine of Canterbury quite often, however.[81] During the English Reformation, Augustine's shrine was destroyed and his relics were lost.

Augustine's body was originally buried in the portico of what is now St Augustine's, Canterbury,[36] but it was later exhumed and placed in a tomb within the abbey church, which became a place of pilgrimage and veneration. After the Norman Conquest the cult of St Augustine was actively promoted.[22] After the Conquest, his shrine in St Augustine's Abbey held a central position in one of the axial chapels, flanked by the shrines of his successors Laurence and Mellitus.[74] King Henry I of England granted St. Augustine's Abbey a six-day fair around the date on which Augustine's relics were translated to his new shrine, from 8 September through 13 September.[75]

Before his death, Augustine consecrated Laurence of Canterbury as his successor to the archbishopric, probably to ensure an orderly transfer of office.[69] Although at the time of Augustine's death, 26 May 604,[22] the mission barely extended beyond Kent, his undertaking introduced a more active missionary style into the British Isles. Despite the earlier presence of Christians in Ireland and Wales, no efforts had been made to try to convert the Saxon invaders. Augustine was sent to convert the descendants of those invaders, and eventually became the decisive influence in Christianity in the British Isles.[58][70] Much of his success came about because of Augustine's close relationship with Æthelberht, which gave the archbishop time to establish himself.[71] Augustine's example also influenced the great missionary efforts of the Anglo-Saxon Church.[72][73]

Pile of stones marked with a tag reading
Augustine's gravesite at Canterbury

Death and legacy

The King's School, Canterbury claims Augustine as its founder, which would make it the world's oldest existing school, but the first documentary records of the school date from the 16th century.[66] Augustine did establish a school, and soon after his death Canterbury was able to send teachers out to support the East Anglian mission.[67] Augustine received liturgical books from the pope, but their exact contents are unknown. They may have been some of the new mass books that were being written at this time. The exact liturgy that Augustine introduced to England remains unknown, but it would have been a form of the Latin language liturgy in use at Rome.[68]

Gregory legislated on the behaviour of the laity and the clergy. He placed the new mission directly under papal authority and made it clear that English bishops would have no authority over Frankish counterparts nor vice versa. Other directives dealt with the training of native clergy and the missionaries' conduct.[65]

Gregory also instructed Augustine on other matters. Temples were to be consecrated for Christian use,[63] and feasts, if possible, moved to days celebrating Christian martyrs. One religious site was revealed to be a shrine of a local St Sixtus, whose worshippers were unaware of details of the martyr's life or death. They may have been native Christians, but Augustine did not treat them as such. When Gregory was informed, he told Augustine to stop the cult and use the shrine for the Roman St Sixtus.[64]

Further success

[62] Also, there were political dimensions involved, as Augustine's efforts were sponsored by the Kentish king, and at this period the Wessex and Mercian kingdoms were expanding to the west, into areas held by the Britons.[61] Some historians believe that Augustine had no real understanding of the history and traditions of the British church, damaging his relations with their bishops.[58] Augustine failed to extend his authority to the Christians in

In 604, Augustine founded two more bishoprics in Britain. Two men who had come to Britain with him in 601 were consecrated, Mellitus as Bishop of London and Justus as Bishop of Rochester.[18][50][51] Bede relates that Augustine, with the help of the king, "recovered" a church built by Roman Christians in Canterbury.[52][6] It is not clear if Bede meant that Augustine rebuilt the church or that Augustine merely reconsecrated a building that had been used for pagan worship. Archaeological evidence seems to support the latter interpretation; in 1973 the remains of an aisled building dating from the Romano-British period were uncovered just south of the present Canterbury Cathedral.[52] The historian Ian Wood argues that the existence of the Libellus points to more contact between Augustine and the native Christians because the topics covered in the work are not restricted to conversion from paganism, but also dealt with relations between differing styles of Christianity.[55]

Stone statue of a crowned man holding a sceptre.
Æthelberht of Kent imagined in a statue from Canterbury Cathedral

Additional work

Further missionaries were sent from Rome in 601. They brought a pallium for Augustine and a present of sacred vessels, vestments, relics, and books.[5] The pallium was the symbol of metropolitan status, and signified that Augustine was now an archbishop unambiguously associated with the Holy See. Along with the pallium, a letter from Gregory directed the new archbishop to ordain 12 suffragan bishops as soon as possible and to send a bishop to York. Gregory's plan was that there would be two metropolitans, one at York and one at London, with 12 suffragan bishops under each archbishop. As part of this plan, Augustine was expected to transfer his archiepiscopal see to London from Canterbury. The move from Canterbury to London never happened; no contemporary sources give the reason,[47] but it was probably because London was not part of Æthelberht's domains. Instead, London was part of the kingdom of Essex, ruled by Æthelberht's nephew Saebert of Essex, who converted to Christianity in 604.[18][48] The historian S. Brechter has suggested that the metropolitan see was indeed moved to London, and that it was only with the abandonment of London as a see after the death of Æthelberht that Canterbury became the archiepiscopal see. This theory contradicts Bede's version of events, however.[49]


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