Augustine of Canterbury, Saint


Augustine of Canterbury, Saint
born , Rome?
died May 26, 604/605, Canterbury, Kent, Eng.; feast day May 26 in England and Wales, May 28 elsewhere

First archbishop of Canterbury.

A Benedictine prior in Rome, he was chosen by Pope Gregory I to lead 40 monks as missionaries to England. They arrived in 597 and were welcomed by King Ethelbert of Kent, at the behest of his queen, and he gave them a church in Canterbury. Augustine converted the king and thousands of his subjects and was made bishop of the English. On the pope's instructions he purified pagan temples and consecrated 12 other bishops. He founded Christ Church, Canterbury, as his cathedral and made Canterbury the primary see in England. He tried unsuccessfully to unify his churches with the Celtic churches of northern Wales.

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also called  Austin 
born Rome?
died May 26, 604/605, Canterbury, Kent, Eng.; feast day in England and Wales May 26, elsewhere May 28

      first archbishop of Canterbury and the apostle of England, who founded the Christian church in southern England.

      Probably of aristocratic birth, Augustine was prior of the Benedictine monastery of St. Andrew, Rome, when Pope St. Gregory I the Great (Gregory I, Saint) chose him to lead an unprecedented mission of about 40 monks to England, which was then largely pagan. They left in June 596, but, arriving in southern Gaul, they were warned of the perils awaiting them and sent Augustine back to Rome. There Gregory encouraged him with letters of commendation (dated July 23, 596), and he set out once more.

      The entourage landed in the spring of 597 on the Isle of Thanet, off the southeast coast of England, and was well received by King Aethelberht (Ethelbert) I (Aethelberht I) of Kent, who gave the missionaries a dwelling place in Canterbury and the old St. Martin's Church, where he allowed them to preach. With Aethelberht's support, their work led to many conversions, including that of the King. In the following autumn Augustine was consecrated bishop of the English by St. Virgilius at Arles.

      Thousands of Aethelberht's subjects were reportedly baptized by Augustine on Christmas Day 597, and he subsequently dispatched two of his monks to Rome with a report of this extraordinary event and a request for further help and advice. They returned in 601 with the pallium (i.e., symbol of metropolitan jurisdiction) from Gregory for Augustine and with more missionaries, including the celebrated saints Mellitus, Justus, and Paulinus. Gregory, with whom Augustine corresponded throughout his apostolate, directed him to purify pagan temples for Christian worship and to consecrate 12 suffragan bishops; thus, he was given authority over the bishops in Britain, and the evangelization of the Kingdom of Kent began.

      Augustine founded Christ Church, Canterbury, as his cathedral and the monastery of SS. Peter and Paul (known after his death as St. Augustine's, where the early archbishops were buried), which came to rank as the second Benedictine house in all Europe. Canterbury thus was established as the primatial see of England, a position maintained thereafter. In 604 he established the episcopal sees of London (for the East Saxons), consecrating Mellitus as its bishop, and of Rochester, consecrating Justus as its bishop.

      At a conference with British bishops, Augustine tried in vain to unify the British (Celtic) churches of North Wales and the churches he was founding. A second conference, his last recorded act, proved equally fruitless. Augustine was buried at SS. Peter and Paul.

Additional Reading
F.A. Gasquet, The Mission of St. Augustine and Other Addresses (1924); Margaret Deanesly, Augustine of Canterbury (1964, reissued 1997).

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Universalium. 2010.

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