St. Augustine of Canterbury, (venerable) (Died 605)
In Christian legend, first archbishop of Canterbury. Feast, 26 May. The legend of St. Augustine of Canterbury is told in St. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Augustine was sent by Pope St. Gregory the Great as a missionary to Kent in England.
The queen, Bertha, was already a Christian, but her husband, Ethelbert, was not. However, Ethelbert permitted Augustine and his followers to enter Canterbury, which they did, singing praises and carrying an image of Christ. The king was so moved that he consented to be baptized along with his people.
The saint then wished to speak with others on the island, the Britons, who had been converted to Christianity earlier but followed different customs from those of the Roman Church. A meeting was held during which they debated the date of Easter and some other customs. To prove that God was on his side in the matter, a blind man was brought in and immediately “received sight, and Augustine was by all declared the preacher of the Divine Truth.” However, the Celtics, or Britons, said they had to get the “consent and leave of their people,” and they asked for a second conference.
This was arranged, and seven Celtic bishops arrived. “If he is a man of God, follow him,” a holy man said. “How shall we know that?” the bishops asked. “If at your approach he shall rise up to you,” he said, “hear him submissively, being assured that he is the servant of Christ; but if he shall despise you, and not rise up to you, whereas you are more in number, let him also be despised by you.” When they arrived, Augustine remained in his chair, and the conference fell apart. Augustine, however, had the last word. He cursed the group, saying they would fall under the judgment of death.
This prediction came true after St. Augustine’s death, for some 2,000 monks who followed the Celtic church were killed by Ethilfrid, king of the pagan Northern English. In Christian art Augustine is shown either as a Benedictine with a staff or as a bishop with a pallium, cope, and miter.
Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow – Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante