This illustration, created by James William Edmund Doyle (1822–1892), depicts an event from the life of Saint Augustine of Canterbury. Sent by Pope Gregory I “the Great” in 596 to proselytize to the English, Augustine arrived on the shores of Britain by 597. He made his first camp on the Isle of Thanet, where he reached out to King Aethelberht I (or Ethelbert) of Kent, who was, at that time, a practitioner of the Anglo-Saxon traditional Germanic religion. A Northumbrian monk, Bede (c. 673-735), wrote about the first interactions of the king and the clergyman in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, stating, “the king came to the island and, sitting down in the open air, summoned Augustine and his companions to an audience…at the king’s command, they had sat down and preached the word of life to the king and his court” (Book II, chapter 25). After their first meeting, the king was not yet won over to Christianity, but Aethelberht decided to allow the missionaries to enter and operate in his kingdom. They were given further permission to build a headquarters at Canterbury, where Augustine went to work preaching to the locals. Saint Augustine of Canterbury’s sermons proved very effective. According to Bede, “At length the king himself, among others, edified by the pure lives of these holy men and their gladdening promises, the truth of which they confirmed by many miracles, believed and was baptized” (Ecclesiastical History, Book II, chapter 26).
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People (and relevant letters), translated by Leo Sherley-Pride, R. E. Latham and D. H. Farmer. New York: Penguin Classics, 2003.