Shrine of St. Frideswide, Christ Church Cathedral Oxford.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Feast of St. Augustine of Canterbury, first Archbishop of Canterbury, May 26.

Icon from Canterbury Cathedral with Pope Gregory presenting the pall to St. Augustine. And the 11th century Chair of St. Augustine, the throne of the Archbishops of Canterbury behind the high altar of the cathedral.

St. Augustine is best remembered as one of the Fathers of the Anglican Church as the founder of the Archbishopric of Canterbury. Although there were many other bishops in Britain, Augustine would be the first among the Anglo-Saxons. Augustine was originality the prior of St. Andrew's Abbey in Rome and a close friend of Pope Gregory the Great. At one time before Gregory had been elected to the papacy, he was in a Roman slave market where he encountered three Angle slaves from Britain. Noting that the slaves were pagans, Gregory would later send St. Augustine to Britain to convert the Anglo-Saxons. In 596 Augustine left Rome, arriving in Kent in 597. He went first to the King of Kent, Ethelbert and his wife, Bertha who was already a christian, baptized at Paris. Ethelbert was impressed with Augustine, but still took 3 years to decide weather or not to accept the Christian faith. Finally in 601, Ethelbert was baptized and allowed for many of his subjects to also be baptized. Augustine sent for more priests and monks from Rome, and built the first Cathedral at Canterbury. In the following few years he would establish St. Augustine's Abbey, outside the Canterbury city walls, an abbey at Reculver, and the dioceses of Rochester and London. Due to Ethelbert's overlordship of southern England and the strong and fast-growing presence of the archbishopric in Canterbury and the other bishoprics, Christianity never lapsed in that area and the city would be used as a base for all of the future missions to convert the Anglo-Saxons of neighboring kingdoms in the following century. Augustine died in 604 at the end of a short bu successful episcopate. His relics were the most prized of the many saints whose bones lay in the abbey of St. Augustine outside of Canterbury. As the apostle to the Anglo-Saxons, Augustine is rightly considered the 'church father' of all Anglicans, and is still widely venerated in all provinces of the Anglican Communion. It is right, as Anglicans that we thank God for giving Augustine the strength and perseverance to bring the faith to the English.

Holy God, who sent forth thy servant Augustine as the first Archbishop of Canterbury to bring the Gospels of thy Son Jesus Christ to the English people: strengthen all the bishops of our own time, to remember their holy gifts, and strengthen the Holy Church which has sprung from the chair of Augustine to righteously extend the same Gospels to all the world. Amen.

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