st.Augustine of Canterbury

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  st.Augustine of Canterbury Patronage: England, Also known as: Austin. -spreadjesus.org


st.Augustine of Canterbury


Patronage: England,


Also known as: Austin.


Augustine was by all accounts a timid man, a librarian and monk. In 596, Pope St. Gregory the Great (r. 590–604) chose about 30 monks from St. Andrew Monastery on the Coelian Hill in Rome, led by their prior, Augustine, to serve in the first papal mission to convert the pagans. The band traveled as far as Provence, in Gaul; but, terrified by tales of the Anglo- Saxons and the dangers of crossing the English Channel, the monks persuaded Augustine to return to Rome and beg His Holiness to end their mission.


Gregory knew, however, that the Saxon king Aethelbert was married to a Christian princess, Bertha. He told Augustine that he had no choice but to go on to England. They landed on the Isle of Thanet off the coast of Kent in late 596 and were warmly welcomed by the king and queen, who gave Augustine a house in Canterbury and permission to preach. On Pentecost in 597, Augustine baptized King Aethelbert. Augustine traveled back to France almost immediately to receive consecration as bishop of the English by St. Virgilius, metropolitan of Arles. Instead of establishing his see in London, Augustine chose Canterbury, the royal capital of Kent. He rebuilt an ancient church that served as the center of the cathedral and erected a monastery to SS. Peter and Paul outside the walls.


The present cathedral, begun in 1070, stands on the original site. Augustine also established episcopal sees at London and Rochester and dedicated the first church in England to St. Pancras. Gregory I gave Augustine very specific instructions regarding the conversion of the English. Pagan temples were not to be destroyed but instead cleansed and consecrated for Christian worship. Local customs and festivals were to be retained, with substitutions of feast days for saints and martyrs whenever possible. Consequently, by 601 Augustine had converted many of the English people. Converting the clergy to a unified liturgy proved a more difficult task. Unable to communicate effectively with the Church in Rome, the British Church had established its own patterns of worship and practice. Many also were unwilling to evangelize the AngloSaxons, whom they considered their enemies. A meeting failed miserably when Augustine supposedly failed to rise at the arrival of the British bishops. Deeming Augustine arrogant, the bishops would not accept him as metropolitan.


Discouraged and exhausted, Augustine died on May 26, 604 or 605. He was buried at the abbey of SS. Peter and Paul outside the Canterbury Cathedral. From then on, the monastery became known as St. Augustine’s, and succeeding archbishops of the English Church were buried there. The archbishop of Canterbury remains the head of the Church of England and is described as occupying the “Chair of Augustine.”

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