Augustinus from Canterbury.

Augustine was a Benedictine monk before the monastery in Rome, which was then dedicated to Andrew, on the site of the present-day monastery of San Gregorio Magno al  Celio  in Rome, which had been founded by Pope Gregory the Great on the family property. In 596, he was sent to England on a mission together with forty monks.

When Augustine and his monks reached Aix-en-Provence , they were so horrified by the reports about the wild islanders in Britain that Augustine wanted to abandon the venture and return to Rome . But the Pope insisted on his orders, made Augustine abbot and gave him letters of recommendation to the Frankish princes and bishops, in which he asked them to take part in and support the mission. With that, Augustine and around 40 companions set out for the second time in the spring of 597. Their route took them – probably from the Roman port of Ostia across the sea – to the port of Marseille, then they went ashore along the Rhône via Vienne to Tours , where they wanted to ask Martin ‘s blessing for their mission at his grave. After Easter 597 they reached the English Channel coast and sailed across the North Sea.

Vincenzo Camuccini: Augustine is sent to England by Pope Gregory the Great, altarpiece, around 1820, in the church of San Niccolò l'Arena in Catania

The landing site was the then island of Thant – today the area around Rams gate and part of the mainland – in the Kingdom of Kent . Contrary to reports, Augustine and his companions found a flourishing peasant civilization in southern England. The Anglo-Saxons formed a warrior society under their chiefs or petty kings, lived in large wooden houses in which they ate and drank in abundance, were armed with magnificent knives and swords – from which they derived their name Saxons, Saxon Bertha, a granddaughter of King Clovis in France, the wife of King Ethelbert of Kent, was already a Christian. The Roman monks were warmly received by Ethelbert, the King of Kent liked Augustine, he was allowed to teach and preach in southern England and was assigned what is now Canterbury as a bishop’s seat. On June 2, 597, the king was baptized himself. The queen made her court chapel available to the missionaries: St. Martin’s Church, located in the east of Canterbury, of whose foundations there are still remains. On Christmas Day 597, the mass baptism of ten thousand new Christians took place in Canterbury.

Illustrated Gospel, according to tradition brought to England by Augustine in 597, originated in Italy or France in the 6th century

Illustrated Gospel, according to tradition brought to England by Augustine in 597, created in the 6th century in Italy or France. The sheet shows the Passion story: the entry into Jerusalem , the Last Supper, Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, the raising of Lazarus , the washing of feet, the betrayal of Judas through the brotherly kiss, the arrest of Jesus, the trial before the High Council, Jesus before Pilate , Pilate washing his hands in innocence, the mockery of Jesus and Jesus carrying the cross.

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