This saint is included in Augnet simply to stem confusion that happens when he is mistaken for Augustine of Hippo.
For purposes of distinguishing these two saints, Augustine of Canterbury was previously sometimes described as Augustinus Minor ("Saint Augustine the Less"). Augustine of Canterbury lived almost two centuries after the death of Augustine of Hippo. Augustine of Hippo died in 430 AD, and Augustine of Canterbury died in 604 AD. Their years on this earth did not overlap. Augustine of Canterbury thus lived long before the formation of the Order of Saint Augustine in the 13th century. He therefore had no direct connection either with Augustine or with the Order of Saint Augustine.
Although this saint is associated with the early Christian church in England, he certainly was not the first to bring the message of the Bible there. The Christian Church was established in the British Isles well before the year 300. Some scholars believe that it was introduced by missionaries from the eastern half of the Mediterranean world that spoke the Greek language.
Celtic Christians had their own distinctive culture, and Greek scholarship flourished in Ireland for several centuries after it had died elsewhere in Western Europe. However, in the fifth century Britain was invaded by tribes from Germany who were not Christian: the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. They conquered the native Celtic Christians.
This was despite the resistance from, among others, a leader whose story has come down to us, doubtless with some exaggeration, as that of King Arthur. Those Celtic Christians who fled moved north and west into Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. From these regions Celtic Christian missionaries returned to England to preach about Christ to the fierce new arrivals.
Augustine is sent
Meanwhile, Pope Gregory the Great, who was a Benedictine monk, decided to send missionaries from Rome. For this task, he chose a group of his monks led by their prior, an Italian monk named Augustine. (He is not to be confused with the more famous Augustine of Hippo.) In the year 596 they set out for the wild and barbaric land of the heathen Anglo-Saxons.
When they arrived at Provence in France, stories of the barbaric Anglo-Saxons and the dangers of crossing the channel prompted them to return to the safety of Rome. Gregory insisted that they leave again, and they landed on the Isle of Thanet in the territory of King Ethelbert of Kent. Augustine sent word of their arrival to Ethelbert, who received them under and oak tree.
The wife of the king was a Christian, and he gave the monks permission to preach to his people. Augustine baptised Ethelbert on Pentecost in 597. In 601 the King Ethelbert himself was converted and baptised. Augustine established himself at Canterbury. Since then there has been an unbroken succession of archbishops of Canterbury.
In 603, he held a conference with the leaders of the already existing Christian groups in Britain, but he failed to reach an accommodation with them. The failure was largely due to his own lack of tact. Directly contrary, it may be noted, to the explicit advice of Pope Gregory, Augustine insisted on imposing Roman customs on a British church, which by then for a long time had possessed its own traditions of worship.
There is a tradition that, before going to meet Augustine, the British bishops from non-Saxon areas of Britain consulted a hermit with a reputation for wisdom and holy living. They asked him, "Shall we accept this man as our leader?" The hermit replied, "If, at your meeting, he rises to greet you, then accept him. But if he remains seated, then he is arrogant and unfit to lead, and you ought to reject him." Augustine, alas, remained seated. It took another sixty years before the breach was healed.
Augustine established dioceses in London and Rochester as well as in Canterbury. He died on 26th May 26 in the year 605. Although Kent would quickly relapse into paganism after the death of Ethelbert, missionaries sent by Augustine converted the people of the County of Northumbria. And at the Synod of Whitby in the year 664, the Roman Catholic Christian religion and its practices would triumphantly unify the English church.
The feast day of Augustine is held each year on 26th May, the anniversary of his death in 604 AD. His body, after several translations, found its last resting-place in a marble tomb in the Cathedral at Canterbury. His head was put into a rich monument ornamented with gold and precious stones in the year 1221. All the monuments in the cathedral were broken up at the time of the English Reformation, and their contents were destroyed.
Canterbury cathedral. Excellent photographs by Mary Ann Sullivan. http://www.bluffton.edu/~sullivanm/canterbury/cathedral.html
Benedictine history in England. A summary. http://www.aedificium.org/MonasticLife/BenedictineOrder.html
Saint Augustine of Canterbury. From the New World Encyclopedia. http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Saint_Augustine_of_Canterbury
Saint Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury. Photographs of the ruin.http://www.4gress.com/sights/entry/101143.html AN4313