SAINT AUGUSTINE of CANTERBURY (?–605), bishop – Patron saint of England
Today, the Church honors Saint Augustine of Canterbury, the first archbishop of England who was instrumental in the conversion of thousands of Celts from paganism to Christianity.
Born in Rome, virtually nothing is known of Augustine’s youth, other than he entered Saint Andrew’s Monastery in Rome at an early age, and became a monk of the Benedictine Rule. Over time, be became abbot of the monastery.
About the year 596, Pope Gregory the Great sent Augustine, together with forty other monks, to evangelize the British Isles. Before he reached the islands, terrifying tales of the Celts sent him and the monks back to Rome in fear, but Pope Gregory reassured them that their fears were groundless.
Augustine and the others again set out. This time, they crossed the English Channel and landed in the territory of Kent, ruled by King AEthelberht, a pagan married to a Christian. AEthelberht received them kindly, set up a residence for them in Canterbury and, within the year, on Pentecost Sunday, in the year 597, AEthelberht himself was baptized, and brought 10,000 of his own people into the Church.
Called back to Gaul (France) by Pope Gregory, Augustine was consecrated a bishop and then returned to Canterbury, where he founded his see (diocese), and became the first Archbishop of Canterbury. He constructed a church and monastery near where the present cathedral, begun in 1070, now stands. As the faith continued to spread, he established additional sees in London and Rochester.
Augustine re-established contact between the Celtic and Latin Churches, though he could not establish the uniformity he desired concerning liturgical practices between them. However, history shows that the limited success Augustine achieved in England before his death on May 27, 605, a short eight years after he first arrived in England, would eventually bear fruit long after in the overall conversion of the British Isles.
Today, the Anglican archbishops of Canterbury are still referred to as occupying the “Chair of Augustine”. Saint Augustine of Canterbury is honored with the title of the “Apostle of England”.
We commemorate his feastday on May 27.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint Augustine of Canterbury)
“Father, by the preaching of Saint Augustine of Canterbury, You led the people of England to the Gospel. May the fruits of his work continue in Your Church..
“Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”