St Augustine of Canterbury
On this day, the Church in England rejoices in the memory of St Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury and Apostle to the English. The photo above is of the reredos of the chapel of St Gregory and St Augustine in Westminster Cathedral. St Augustine is shown in the habit of a Benedictine monk next to Pope St Gregory the Great. In the mosaic above the opus sectile reredos, St Augustine is shown on the left kneeling before Pope St Gregory who sent him to convert the Angles c.596. Hanging from the roof of this chapel is the red galero, the cardinals' hat, which belonged to the late Basil Cardinal Hume. Himself a Benedictine monk, he is buried in this chapel under the watchful gaze of the saintly Pope, with whose Successor he was in communion, and the blessed Augustine, whose mantle had fallen on him and his successors, the Archbishops of Westminster.
St Augustine of Canterbury landed on these shores c.597 and having converted King Ethelbert of Kent to Christianity, he established with papal authority the Primatial See of Canterbury as the Seat of the English church. He built the first cathedral of Canterbury and two other churches. He oversaw the sending of missionary bishops throughout the land and died in 604, buried outside the city of Canterbury. His relics were later transferred into the Benedictine abbey of Ss Peter and Paul that was subsequently dedicated to him. The last Catholic Primate to sit in the Chair of St Augustine as his rightful successor was Reginald Cardinal Pole (ob. 1558).
There is an excellent site on St Augustine's mission that is well worth a visit and there are good links there to further information about the saint.
In 1982, Pope John Paul II and the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury made a common declaration at Canterbury Cathedral. It is fitting that we end with their words and ponder the task of Christian unity that lies before us:
"This holy place reminds us of the vision of Pope Gregory in sending St Augustine as an apostle to England, full of zeal for the preaching of the Gospel and the shepherding of the flock. On this eve of Pentecost, we turn again in prayer to Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who promised to ask the Father to give us another Advocate to be with us for ever, the Spirit of truth (cf. Jn 14:16), to lead us to the full unity to which he calls us. Confident in the power of this same Holy Spirit, we commit ourselves anew to the task of working for unity with firm faith, renewed hope and ever deeper love."
In commemorating St Augustine of Canterbury, we recall the roots of the Church in England, its profound and filial union with the Bishop of Rome and the fullness of the ancient Faith he brought to these shores. By his prayers, may it be ever so once more.
"May the Holy Spirit, the Counsellor, who proceeds from You, enlighten our hearts, O Lord; and in accordance with Your Son's promise, may He lead us into all truth."