Augustine of Canterbury

Augustine of Canterbury

Infobox Saint
name=Saint Augustine of Canterbury
birth_date=early 6th century
death_date=26 May 604
feast_day=26 May (Anglican Communion)
27 May (Roman Catholic Church)
28 May (Roman Catholic calendar 1882-1969)
venerated_in=Roman Catholic Church; Anglican Communion; Eastern Orthodox Church

caption=St Augustine, Archbishop of Canterbury from "Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints," by Msgr. Paul Guérin (1882).
birth_place=Rome, Italy
death_place=Canterbury, Kent, England
titles=Bishop and Confessor
Infobox Archbishop of Canterbury
Full name = Saint Augustine of Canterbury

birth_name = Augustine
consecration = about 597
began= unknown
term_end = 26 May 604
predecessor = None
successor = Laurence of Canterbury
birth_date = 6th century
birthplace = Rome, Italy
death_date = death date|604|5|26|df=y
deathplace = Canterbury, Kent, England
tomb = |

Augustine of Canterbury, OSB (born c. first third of the 6th century - died 26 May 604) was a Benedictine monk who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in the year 598. He is considered the "Apostle to the English"Delaney "Dictionary of Saints" pp. 67–68] , a founder of the English Church and a patron of England.cite web |url= |title= Saint Augustine of Canterbury|accessdate=2008-05-31 |work=Patron Saints Index |publisher=Star Quest Production Media]

Augustine was the prior of a monastery in Rome when Saint Gregory the Great chose him in 595 to lead a mission to Britain to convert the pagan King Æthelberht of the Kingdom of Kent to Christianity. Kent was probably chosen because it was near the Christian kingdoms in Gaul and 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 also allowed the missionaries to preach freely, giving them land to found a monastery outside the city walls. Augustine was consecrated bishop of the English 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 Catholic 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.

Augustine died in the year 604 and was soon revered as a saint.

Background to the mission

After the withdrawal of the Roman legions from the province of Britannia in 410, the natives of the island of Great Britain were left to defend themselves against the attacks of the Saxons. Before the withdrawal Britannia had been converted to Christianity and had even produced its own heretic in Pelagius. After the legions left, pagan tribes settled the southern parts of the island, but 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.Hindley "Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons" pp. 3–9] This British church 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.Mayr-Harting "The Coming of Christianity" pp. 78–93] Yorke "Conversion of Britain" pp. 115–118 discusses the issue of the "Celtic Church" and what exactly it was.] Evidence for the survival of Christianity in the eastern part of Britain during this time includes the survival of the cult of St Alban and the occurrence of "eccles", derived from the Latin for church, in place names.Yorke "Conversion of Britain" p. 121] There is no evidence that these native Christians tried to convert the Anglo-Saxons.Stenton "Anglo-Saxon England" p. 102]

It was against this background that Pope Gregory I decided to send a mission to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity in 595.Stenton "Anglo-Saxon England" pp. 104–105] The Kingdom of Kent was ruled by Æthelberht, who had married a Christian princess named Bertha before 588. Stenton "Anglo-Saxon England" pp. 105–106] Bertha was the daughter of Charibert I, one of the Merovingian kings of the Franks. As one of the conditions of her marriage she had brought a bishop named Liudhard with her to Kent.Nelson "Bertha (b. c.565, d. in or after 601)" "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography"] Together in Canterbury, they restored a church that dated to Roman timesHindley "Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons" pp. 33–36] —possibly the current St Martin's Church, Canterbury. 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. The historian Ian Wood feels that the initiative came from the Kentish court as well as the queen.Wood "Mission of Augustine of Canterbury" "Speculum" pp. 9–10] Other historians, however, feel that Gregory initiated the mission, although the exact reasons remain unclear. A famous story recorded by Bede relates that Gregory saw fair-haired Saxon slaves from Britain in the Roman slave market and was inspired to try to convert their people.#tag:ref|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. [Bede "History of the English Church and People" pp. 99–100] |group=notesMayr-Harting "The Coming of Christianity" pp. 57–59] 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. The mission may have been an outgrowth of the missionary efforts against the Lombards.Mayr-Harting "Augustine [St Augustine] (d. 604)" "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography"]

The choice of Kent and Æthelberht was probably dictated by a number of factors, including the fact that Æthelberht had allowed his wife to worship freely. 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. Another reason for the mission was the growing power of the Kentish kingdom. Since the eclipse of King Ceawlin of Wessex in 592, Æthelberht was the leading Anglo-Saxon ruler; Bede, an eighth-century monk who wrote a history of the English church, refers to Æthelberht as having imperium (overlordship) south of the River Humber. Lastly, the location of Kent near the Franks allowed support from a Christian area.Brooks "Early History of the Church of Canterbury" pp. 6–7]

In 595, Gregory chose Augustine, who was the prior of the abbey of St Anthony in Rome, to head the mission to Kent. Gregory selected monks to accompany Augustine and sought support from the Frankish kingdom. The Pope wrote to a number of Frankish bishops on Augustine's behalf, introducing the mission and asking that Augustine and his companions be made welcome. Copies of letters to some of these bishops survive in Rome. The pope 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 were asked to allow some Frankish priests to accompany the mission.Brooks "Early History of the Church of Canterbury" pp. 4–5] 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 who visibly had the support of his wife's relatives and people.Brooks "Early History of the Church of Canterbury" p. 6] The Franks at this time were attempting to extend their influence in Kent, and helping Augustine's mission would further that goal. Chlothar, in particular, needed a friendly realm across the Channel to help guard his kingdom's flanks against his fellow Frankish kings.Wood "Mission of Augustine of Canterbury" "Speculum" p. 9]

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 Anthony as well as being pope, which left the day-to-day running of the abbey to Augustine, the prior.

Arrival and first efforts

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. 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.Blair "An Introduction to Anglo-Saxon England" pp. 116–117] In 597, Augustine and his companions landed in Kent. They achieved some initial success soon after their arrival:Fletcher "The Barbarian Conversion" pp. 116–117] Æthelberht permitted the missionaries to settle and preach in his capital of Canterbury where they used the church of St Martin's for services. Neither Bede nor Gregory mentions the date of Æthelberht's conversion,Wood "Mission of Augustine of Canterbury" "Speculum" p. 11] but it probably took place in 597. 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. Also, by 601, Gregory was writing to both Æthelberht and Bertha, calling the king his son and referring to his baptism.#tag:ref|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.|group=notes 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.Brooks "Early History of the Church of Canterbury" pp. 8–9]

Augustine established his episcopal see at Canterbury. 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 ten months later says that Augustine had been consecrated on Gregory's command by bishops of the Germanies.Brooks "Early History of the Church of Canterbury" p. 5]

Soon after his arrival, Augustine founded the monastery of Saints Peter and Paul, which later became St Augustine's Abbey, on land donated by the king.Blair "Church in Anglo-Saxon Society" pp. 61–62] 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. 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.Mayr-Harting "The Coming of Christianity" pp. 32–33]

After these conversions, Augustine sent Laurence back to Rome with a report of his success along with questions about the mission.Stenton "Anglo-Saxon England" p. 106] Bede records the letter and Gregory's replies in chapter 27 of his "Ecclesiastical History": Augustine asked for Gregory's advice on a number of issues, including how to organise the church, the punishment for church robbers, guidance on who was allowed to marry whom, and the consecration of bishops. Other topics were relations between the churches of Britain and Gaul, childbirth and baptism, and when it was lawful for people to receive communion and for a priest to celebrate mass.Bede "A History of the English Church" pp. 71–83]

Further missionaries were sent from Rome in 601. They brought a pallium for Augustine and a present of sacred vessels, vestments, relics, and books. The pallium was the symbol of metropolitan status, and signified that Augustine was now an archbishop. 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,Brooks "Early History of the Church of Canterbury" pp. 9–11] 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.Fletcher "The Barbarian Conversion" p. 453] 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.Brooks "Early History of the Church of Canterbury" pp. 11–14]

Additional work

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.Hayward "St Justus" "Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England" pp. 267–268] Lapidge "St Mellitus" "Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England" pp. 305–306] Bede relates that Augustine, with the help of the king, "recovered" a church which had been built by Roman Christians in Canterbury.#tag:ref|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." [cite web |url=|title= Historiam Ecclesiasticam Gentis Anglorum: Liber Primus |accessdate=2008-04-01 |work= The Latin Library |publisher=Ad Fontes Academy ] 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 which he was informed had been built long ago by Roman Christians." [Bede "History of the English Church and People" p. 91] |group=notes 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.Brooks "Early History of the Church of Canterbury" p. 50]

Augustine failed to extend his authority to the Christians in Wales and Dumnonia to the west. Gregory had decreed that these Christians should submit to Augustine and that their bishops should obey him.Mayr-Harting "Coming of Christianity" pp. 70–72] According to the narrative of Bede, the Britons in these regions viewed Augustine with uncertainty, and their suspicion was compounded by a diplomatic misjudgement on Augustine's part.Stenton "Anglo-Saxon England" pp. 110–111] In 603, Augustine and Æthelberht summoned the British bishops to a meeting. These guests retired early to confer with their people, who, according to Bede, advised them to judge Augustine based upon the respect he displayed at their next meeting. When Augustine failed to rise from his seat on the entrance of the British bishops,Bede "History of the English Church and People" pp. 100–103] they refused to recognise him as archbishop.Hindley "Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons" pp. 8–9] There were, however, deep differences between Augustine and the British church that perhaps played a more significant role in preventing an agreement. At issue were the tonsure, the observance of Easter, and practical and deep-rooted differences in approach to asceticism, missionary endeavours, and how the church itself was organised. Some historians believe that Augustine had no real understanding of the history and traditions of the British church, damaging his relations with their bishops.Mayr-Harting " Coming of Christianity" pp. 72–73]

Further success

Easier to implement were Rome's mandates concerning pagan temples and celebrations. Temples were to be consecrated for Christian use,Thomson "Western Church" p. 8] 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.Blair "Church in Anglo-Saxon Society" p. 24]

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.Stenton "Anglo-Saxon England" pp. 107–108]

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. [cite web |url= |title= 597 and all that: A Brief History of the King’s School, Canterbury |accessdate=2008-03-31 |publisher=The King's School, Canterbury] Augustine did establish a school, and soon after his death Canterbury was able to send teachers out to support the East Anglian mission.Brooks "Early History of the Church of Canterbury" pp. 94–95] 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 which was in use at Rome.Mayr-Harting "Coming of Christianity" pp. 173–174]

Death and legacy

Before his death, Augustine consecrated Laurence of Canterbury as his successor to the archbishopric, probably to ensure an orderly transfer of office.Hindley "Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons" p. 43] Although at the time of Augustine's death, May 26, 604, the mission barely extended beyond Kent, his undertaking introduced a more active missionary style into the British Isles. Although there had been Christians in Ireland and Wales earlier, 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.Collins "Early Medieval Europe" p. 185] Much of his success came about because of Augustine's close relationship with Æthelberht, which gave the archbishop time to establish himself.Mayr-Harting "Coming of Christianity" p. 249] Augustine's example also influenced the great missionary efforts of the Anglo-Saxon Church.Mayr-Harting "Coming of Christianity" pp. 265–266] Wood "Mission of Augustine of Canterbury" "Speculum" p. 8]

Augustine's body was originally buried in the portico of what is now St Augustine's, Canterbury, but it was later exhumed and placed in a tomb within the abbey church, where it became a place of pilgrimage and veneration. After the Norman Conquest the cult of St Augustine was actively promoted. During the English Reformation, the shrine was destroyed and the relics were lost.Smith "St Augustine in History and Tradition" "Folklore" pp. 23–28]

Today, a Celtic cross marks the spot in Ebbsfleet, Thanet, East Kent, where Augustine is said to have landed,cite web |url= |title=Ramsgate England Tourist Information |accessdate=2008-03-29 |publisher=Travel UK] [Green, Michael A. "St. Augustine of Canterbury". Janus Publishing Company, 1997, p. 38.] although historian Alan Kay told the BBC in 2005 that Augustine actually landed somewhere between Stonar and Sandwich. According to Kay, Ebbsfleet was not on the coast in the 6th century. The story that Augustine landed there was started in 1884, he said, by a Victorian aristocrat who needed a publicity stunt to draw people to his newly opened tea rooms. [ [ "The mystery of history"] , BBC, February 7, 2005.]





External links

* [ Prosopography of Anglo Saxon England Entry for St Augustine of Canterbury]
* [ National Monuments record of the commemorative cross]
* [ Catholic Encyclopedia: "St. Augustine of Canterbury"]

NAME=Augustine of Canterbury
ALTERNATIVE NAMES=Saint Augustine of Canterbury
SHORT DESCRIPTION=Christian saint; first Archbishop of Canterbury
DATE OF BIRTH=first third of the sixth century
DATE OF DEATH=26 May 604

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