Augustine the Apostle
Born c. 540 in Rome, Italy
Died May 26 604 or 605 in Canterbury, Kent, England
He was sent by Pope Gregorio I the Great to lead a mission to the pagan Anglo-Saxons in England in early 596 AD. This was the first papally sponsored mission. Pope Gregory requested on several occasions – in 596 and 601 – that Archbishop Virgilius of Arles in Gaul (France) would extend a welcome to Augustine and his monks, who were on their way to England. Augustine and his forty companions arrived in southern Gaul, were warned of the perils awaiting them and he returned to Rome.
The Pope sent him encouraging letters of commendation, and he set out on his quest once again. It is not clear when Augustine was consecrated bishop, but probably around 597-598. He was consecrated by Archbishop Ætherius of Arles in Gaul. This appointment granted him ecclesiastical authority and allowed him to establish the Church hierarchy in England. Augustine founded Christ Church in Canterbury.
In the spring of 597 the party landed on the Isle of Thanet. They were well received by King Æthelberht of Kent and his Christian wife Bertha. They provided him with a residence in Canterbury, where he established his mission headquarters, and the old St. Martin’s Church, where he allowed them to preach.
On Christmas Day in 597, thousands of Augustine’s subjects were baptized, and he sent two monks to Rome with a report of this event together with a request for further advice and help. In 601 they returned with more missionaries, among them were St. Mellitus, St. Justus, and St. Paulinus. Gregory gave advice to purify pagan temples and turn them into locations for Christian worship, he should also consecrate twelve suffragan bishops, and at once send them one of them to York. He was given authority over the bishops of Britain, and thus the evangelization of the Kingdom of Kent began.
One notable event in Augustine’s mission was the meeting with the Celtic Christian bishops at the Synod of Whitby in 664. The synod aimed to resolve differences between the Roman and Celtic Christian traditions prevalent in England at the time. Augustine represented the Roman tradition, while the Celtic Church was represented by Bishop Colmán of Lindisfarne. The synod ultimately favored the Roman practices, leading to greater ecclesiastical unity in England.
Augustine’s mission encountered challenges and resistance, but he preserved and continued to spread Christianity. He obtained support from various kings and gradually converted many Anglo-Saxon nobles and commoners, among them all was also the king.
Augustine died on May 26, c. 604, and was buried in Canterbury. He was later venerated as a saint. His mission and the subsequent establishment of the Archbishopric of Canterbury were instrumental in the conversion and Christianization of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England. Augustine’s work laid the foundation for the growth and organization of the Church of England. The See of Canterbury, established by him, remains one of the most important and influential positions in the Angelican Communion to this day. Augustine’s legacy as a missionary and church leader has had a lasting impact on the history and development of Christianity in England.
Though he lived a century after the Arthurian period, the Prose Tristan says that he converted Lyonesse and Cornwall to Christianity several generations before Arthur’s time. In Perlesvaus, Arthur experiences a spiritual rebirth at St. Augustine’s chapel in the White Forest.
Perlesvaus | Early 13th century
Prose Tristan | 1230-1240