St. Augustine preaching before King Ethelbert
On May 27th, we honor St. Augustine of Canterbury, an Italian Benedictine monk who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in the year 598. He is not be confused with the earlier St. Augustine of Hippo, the famous author of the Confessions and City of God. St. Augustine of Canterbury (sometimes referred to as “Saint Augustine the Lesser”) founded the famous See of Canterbury and preached the Catholic faith to the country's Anglo-Saxon pagans during the late sixth and early seventh centuries.
The Catholic faith had already been accepted among England's original Celtic inhabitants, in earlier times; but from the mid-fifth century on, the country was controlled by Anglo-Saxon invaders who did not accept Christianity, and were not converted by the small number of isolated Celtic Christians. Thus, England largely had to be evangelized anew.
Augustine was the prior of a monastery in Rome when Pope Gregory the Great chose him to lead a party of forty monks to travel to south-eastern England to spread the Gospel there. They landed in 597, and were welcomed by the king of Kent, Ethelbert,a pagan married to a Christian, Bertha. On Pentecost Sunday 597, Ethelbert was baptized. Many of his subjects also converted to the faith, The king permitted missionaries to preach freely, providing them with an old church in Canterbury, as well as a place in which to live.
Augustine then went to Arles, in France, where he was consecrated archbishop, and then returned to Canterbury to set up his see. The mission prospered, and he founded two more sees, at London and at Rochester in Kent.
In 603, Augustine rebuilt and reconsecrated the Canterbury church and the house given him by King Ethelbert. These structures formed the nucleus for his metropolitan cathedral. They were destroyed by fire in 1067, and the present cathedral, begun by the great Lanfranc in 1070, stands on their site. A converted temple outside the walls of Canterbury was made into another religious house, which Augustine dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul. After his death, this abbey became known as St. Augustine's.
Shortly before his death on May 26, 604, Augustine consecrated Lawrence of Canterbury as his successor. He was buried in the Abbey Church of SS. Peter and Paul.
St. Augustine has been called "Apostle of England" because of his missionary efforts. He is the patron of England.
O God, Who by the preaching and miracles of blessed Augustine, Thy Confessor and Bishop, didst vouchsafe to shed upon the English people the light of the true faith; grant that, through his intercession, the hearts of those that have gone astray may return to the unity of Thy truth, and that we may be of one mind in doing Thy will. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one world without end. Amen.
- From the Collect for the Feast of St. Augustine of Canterbury