St Augustine of Canterbury

First Archbishop of Canterbury

died. 604 or 605,  Feast Day: 26th May

St Augustine standing in front of Canterbury Cathedral

In 596 Augustine was sent from Rome (where he was prior of St Andrew’s on the Coelian) by Pope Gregory I to undertake the conversion of the English. With 40 monks he landed in the Isle of Thanet, and through the influence of Queen Bertha (already a Christian) was well received by King Ethelbert of Kent, who, however, would not at first receive the mission within doors for fear of magical arts.

Augustine gradually won his confidence, and within a year or two Ethelbert and his people were converted. The chief seat of worship was at Canterbury, and the first regular services were held at the church of St Martin, a relic of Roman Christianity. Other churches rapidly arose, and in 601 Augustine received from Gregory the pallium as archbishop of Canterbury and primate of Britain.

There was already a Celtic Christian community in the West country, founded by the disciples of St. Columba, their principal church being at Bangor, on the Dee. These people declined to acknowledge Augustine’s authority, and a conference held at Augustine’s Oak (somewhere near the Severn) failed to convince them; but only a few years later the settlement at Bangor was utterly destroyed by the pagan Ethelred.