Augustine of Canterbury, St.
AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY, ST.
Apostle of England, first archbishop of Canterbury; d. May 26, 604. Augustine (Austin) was prior at St. Andrew's on the Coelian Hill, Rome, when gregory i (the Great) sent him with 30 monks to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons. After difficulties in Gaul and his return to Rome, he was consecrated bishop and landed at Ebbsfleet in 597. There the king, ethelbert of kent, who was married to a Christian, allowed the monks to preach, giving them a house and an old church in Canterbury. Eventually Ethelbert and many of his people became Christian. In 601, reinforcements of personnel, books, relics, and sacred vessels arrived from Rome.
Augustine was given a pallium and made a metropolitan, independent of the bishops in Gaul but without authority over them. Surviving letters from Gregory instructed him on principles and procedure: he was left free to adopt Gallican or other liturgical uses; he was to live a common life with his monks, although married clerks in minor orders also had a place in his household. He was not to destroy pagan temples, only the idols. Pagan rites, if innocent, could be taken over for the Christian feasts. Relying on Roman documents, Gregory decided that he should establish his see at London, with 12 suffragans, and another see at York, also with 12 suffragans. Instead, Augustine founded his see at Canterbury, the capital of Kent, the most cultured and the only Christian Anglo-Saxon kingdom. There he built the Cathedral of Christ Church, and just outside the city wall Ethelbert erected the abbey of SS. Peter and Paul, later called St. Augustine. Augustine established a bishopric at London, with mellitus as its bishop, having already set up Rochester as a kind of suburban see to Canterbury. Shortly before his death he consecrated Lawrence of Canterbury as his successor.
In his seven-year apostolate, Augustine failed to win any cooperation from the Christian Britons in the West Country because of their hatred for the Anglo-Saxon race and their attachment to provincial Celtic customs. Meeting with real but limited success in his lifetime, Augustine's mission bore fruit long after in the conversion of the rest of England, in the Synod of Whitby, and in the missionary work of Anglo-Saxons on the Continent. He was buried at SS. Peter and Paul, Canterbury.
Feast: May 27 (Roman Calendar), May 26 (England).
Bibliography: Gregorii I Papae registrum expistolarum, ed. p. ewald and l. m. hartmann, Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Epistolae v.1, 2. bede, Historia ecclesiastica, ed. c. plummer (Oxford 1896; reprint 1956) 1:23; 2:3. a. brou, St. Augustine and His Companions, tr. from the French (London 1897). m. deanesly, Augustine of Canterbury (London 1964). f. a. gasquet, Mission of St. Augustine (London 1924). m. a. green, St. Augustine of Canterbury (London 1997). c. donaldson, The Great English Pilgrimage: In the Footsteps of Saint Augustine (Norwich 1995). f. m. stenton, Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford History of England 2; Oxford 1943) 103–112. s. brechter, Die Quellen zur Angelsachsen-mission Gregors des Grossen (Münster 1941). p. meyvaert, "Les 'Responsiones' de S. Gregoire le Grand a S. A. de Cantorbéry," Revue d'histoire ecclésiastique 54 (1959) 879–894.