Saint Brigid Religious Education
100 Mayflower Street
West Hartford, CT 06110
St. Augustine of Canterbury
Feast day: May 27
At the end
of the sixth century anyone would have said that Augustine had found his
niche in life. Looking at this respected
prior of a monastery, almost anyone would have predicted he would
spend his last days there, instructing, governing, and settling even
further into this sedentary life.
St. Gregory the Great had lived under Augustine's rule in that same
monastery. When he decided it was time to send missionaries to
Anglo-Saxon England, he didn't choose those with restless natures or the
young looking for new worlds to conquer. He chose Augustine and thirty
monks to make the unexpected, and dangerous, trip to England.
Missionaries had gone to Britain years before but the Saxon conquest of
England had forced these Christians into hiding. Augustine and his monks
were to bring these Christians back into the fold and convince the
warlike conquerors to become Christians themselves.
of the way they heard the horrid stories of the cruelty and barbarity of
their future hosts. By the time they had reached France the stories
became so frightening that the monks turned back to Rome. Gregory had
heard encouraging news that England was far more ready for Christianity
than the stories would indicate, including the marriage of King
Ethelbert of Kent to a Christian princess, Bertha. He sent Augustine and
the monks on their way again fortified with his belief that now was the
time for evangelization.
Ethelbert himself wasn't as sure, but he was a just king and curious. So
he went to hear what the missionaries had to say after they landed in
England. He held the meeting in the open air. There he listened to what
they had to say about Christianity. He did not convert then but was
impressed enough to let them continue to preach, as long as they didn't
force anyone to convert. They didn't have to, the king was baptized in
597. Unlike other kings who forced all subjects to be baptized as soon
as they were converted, Ethelbert left religious a free choice.
was consecrated bishop of the English and more missionaries arrived from
Rome to help with the new task. Augustine had to be very careful
because, although the English had embraced the new religion they still
respected the old. Under the wise orders of Gregory the Great, Augustine
aided the growth from the ancient traditions to the new life by
consecrating pagan temples for Christian worship and turning pagan
festivals into feast days of martyrs. Canterbury was built on the site
of an ancient church.
Augustine was more successful with the pagans than with the Christians.
He found the ancient British Church, which had been driven into Cornwall
and Wales, had strayed a little in its practices from Rome. He met with
them several times to try to bring them back to the Roman Church but the
old Church could not forgive their conquerors. Augustine was only in
England for eight years before he died in 605. He is also known as
Austin, a name that many locations have adopted.