Augustine was sent by Pope Gregory to Kent in 597 to convert Britain to Christianity. His first success was converting king Aethelbert (partly due to his wife Bertha already being Christian). In 598 he founded the first church in Canterbury and was the first Archbishop. He created 12 dioceses. In 603 he had instructions from the Pope to unify the two styles of Christianity – but in Rome’s favour. He totally failed in this respect.
Only much later at the synod of Whitby in 664 was this achieved to any degree.
Before his death, Augustine consecrated Laurence of Canterbury as his successor to the archbishopric, probably to ensure an orderly transfer of office.
At the time of Augustine’s death, believed to be 26th May 604, the mission barely extended beyond Kent, his undertaking introduced a more active missionary style into England. 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 most of the British Isles.
In the Chronicles of The Venerable Bede, there are descriptions of the arrival of Augustine in England, information about his work and eventually, the inscription on the tomb of the Saint. These are the extracts that make a good summary:
Augustine is sent to Briton:
‘in the fourteenth year of the reign of the Emporer Maurice (597) and about 150 years after the coming of the Angles to Briton, Gregory, prompted by devine inspiration sent his servant of God named Augustine and several more god-fearing monks with him, who preached the word of God to the English race’
The building of the Cathedral:
‘After Augustine had received his episcopal See in the Royal City (Canterbury) he, with the help of the King, restored the church in it which, as he had been informed, had been built in ancient times by the hands of Roman believers; he dedicated it in the name of the Holy Saviour our Lord and God Jesus Christ, and there he established a dwelling for himself and all his successors.’
The inscription on the tomb:
‘Here resteth the Lord Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury
Who erewhile was sent hither by blessed Gregory Bishop of the City
of Rome, and being helped by God to work miracles, drew over King
Ethelbert and his race from the worship of idols to the faith of Christ.
Having ended in peace the days of his ministry, he departed hence
seven days before the Kalend of June in the reign of the same king,
|Feast day||26 May (Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and Catholic Extraordinary Form calendar in Great Britain)|
27 May (Catholic Ordinary Form calendar)
28 May (Catholic Extraordinary Form calendar outside Great Britain)
Eastern Orthodox Church
|Shrines||St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury (destroyed)|
St Augustine’s, Ramsgate
Link/cite this page
If you use any of the content on this page in your own work, please use the code below to cite this page as the source of the content.
Link will appear as Hanson, Marilee. "Saint Augustine of Canterbury" https://englishhistory.net/middle-ages/augustine-of-canterbury/, March 3, 2022