Stories of Saints and Martyrs - Jetta S. Wolff

St. Augustine of Canterbury

May 26; A.D. 604

It was about the year A.D. 596 that the good St. Gregory, who had taken pity upon the little Angle children in the market-place at Rome, sent out a band of monks to Britain. They were to go and teach the love of CHRIST to those who were still heathens in our island. At the head of this company was St. Augustine of Canterbury.

It was a long journey they had to make, and at one of the places where they stopped to rest for a few nights, such terrible tales were told them of the fierce pagan English nation, that the poor monks trembled for fear. They began to think they must turn back home instead of going on to the shores of Britain. From all that they now heard, it seemed as if certain death for the whole band were before them. It was hard to know what to do. They determined to send back to Rome Augustine their leader, to beg to be allowed to give up a journey which was so toilsome, and in which there was so much danger.

But St. Gregory would not hear of this, and Augustine returned with a letter telling the good monks "it were better not to begin a good work than to leave it when once begun." He wrote very lovingly to his "most beloved sons," but very firmly.

It was in truth a weary journey for the poor men. They travelled right through France, sleeping at night on the dead leaves in the forests. Then they crossed the sea till they came to a creek between the old towns of Ramsgate and Sandwich, on the coast of Kent. There they landed, and then went on to Canterbury, where were the ruins of a church called the Church of St. Martin of Tours; for Britain under the Romans had been in great part Christian. Some people even think that St. Paul had preached both in England and in Ireland. It was the German conquerors, the Angles and the Saxons, who had again brought in so much false worship. But Queen Bertha, the wife of King Ethelbert, was a princess from France, and she was a true Christian. She was so good and gentle and wise that she had already greatly influenced her husband towards the faith of CHRIST, and when Augustine arrived in Kent, he found a glad welcome from both King and Queen.

Ethelbert came to meet Augustine and his monks in the Isle of Thanet, at Ebbsfleet. He received them in state, "sitting royally," in the open air, one fine summer morning. He was not yet fully a Christian, and would not let the monks enter within his palace walls lest they should work him some harm. He could not yet quite understand that there was no sort of magic art mixed up with the Christian rites.

Bearing a silver cross as their banner, and a board with the image of our LORDpainted upon it, St. Augustine and his monks came up. As they drew near they chanted a Litany, praying for all men.

The king treated St. Augustine with all honour, and bade him sit down before him. They spoke together for a few minutes; then the Priest rose and preached before the court. Ethelbert was much struck by his words, and when the sermon was ended, he told him he believed he wished indeed to teach "those things you believe to be true and most healthful for me and for my people. Therefore will we not molest you, but give you good entertainment, and take all care that you be supplied with what is needful for your support and living. Nor do we forbid you to preach and gain as many as you can to your religion."

The king kept his promise. He gave St. Augustine a house in the city of Canterbury, and whatever else he wanted for himself and his clergy. Within a year, at the next Whitsuntide, the king himself was baptized, and at Christmas ten thousand of his subjects. The ancient Church of St. Martin at Canterbury, was restored, and grew in time into the great Cathedral. So on the site where was the first English Christian Church, stands to this day the chief among the churches of our land, as it is the Cathedral of the Archbishop or Primate of all England.

The letters which passed between St. Augustine and St. Gregory still remain, telling us of all the interest the good and great St. Gregory took till his dying day in the spread of the truth among the people from whence had come those little Angle boys who had won his heart.

Both St. Gregory and St. Augustine died in the same year, A.D. 604; the one in March, the other in the month of May.

In looking back, how thankful must St. Augustine have felt that he had been forced to persevere in that toilsome journey to England instead of giving up in the hour of weakness and temptation.

As the seasons of Ember days "come round, and we know that the clergy of our own time are making ready to start each one upon his own journey in the life of struggle against evil—some in our midst, some in far-away lands—let us think of the words of Keble's beautiful Ordination hymn, and pray:

"When foemen watch their tents by night,

And mists hang wide o'er moor and fell,

Spirit of Counsel and of Might,

Their pastoral warfare guide Thou well.

"And oh! when worn and tired they sigh,

With that more fearful war within,

When passion's storms are loud and high,

And brooding o'er remembered sin.

"The heart dies down—O mightiest then,

Come ever true, come ever near,

And wake their slumbering love again,

Spirit of God's most holy Fear."

Christian Year.