Skip to main content

SAINT AUGUSTINE AND THE CONVERSION OF ENGLAND. Edited by Richard Gameson. Sutton Publishing Limited, Stroud, 1999. Pp. xii, 436. £ 30.00. This volume consists largely of papers delivered at a conference held at the University of Kent in 1997 to mark the fourteen hundredth anniversary of the arrival of Augustine in Kent. Three chapters were commissioned at a later date. Augustine's mission was inspired and organized by Pope Gregory I who was in a very real sense 'the Apostle of the English'. Augustine's role was marked in 987 by the rededication of his monastery of St Peter and St Paul at Canterbury to those saints and to Augustine himself. The Life of St Augustine which Goscelin wrote in the last years of the eleventh century was significant for his cult and did much to establish his reputation. As Professor Markus expresses it, 'to make Augustine visible in Gregory's shadow is one of the purposes of this volume as a whole'. Apart from chapters which deal with the mission in England, four chapters are devoted to the manuscripts associated with St Augustine's monastery, two deal with architecture, one examines the British church and the mission of St Augustine, and three very stimulating papers deal with the continental background. From the outset much depended upon the support of Aethelberht and his Merovingian wife, Bertha. Ian Wood argues convincingly that they were married before 580, and that they lived in Kent for some ten or fifteen years in the reign of his father, Eormenric. Bertha, as a Christian, attended by her 'bishop', could establish some Christian influence in Canterbury, but it was only after Aethelberht's succession that they could encourage a papal mission. Despite the setbacks which followed Aethelberht's death, Augustine's work was well done and the foundations of a thriving church in England were firmly laid. Clare Stancliffe's long chapter on 'The British Church and the Mission of St Augustine', which has a particular interest for Welsh historians, is heavily over- loaded with conjecture and assumption. She seeks to explore the documentary and oral sources which might have been available to Bede as he compiled his account of Augustine's meetings with the British bishops (and monks). She notes that 'historians are not supposed to speculate about what might have been' but feels that 'arguably we gain a more accurate insight into how things actually stood c. 600 by indulging ourselves a little in that direction'. There are certainly issues which do not allow easy solutions. Two instances which Clare Stancliffe discusses, for example, are to determine whether Gregory I had any firm knowledge of the structure and strength of the church as it survived in Wales, and to gauge whether Welsh missionaries were active in midland England before 597. With the whole difficult episode of Augustine's encounter with Christian leaders in Wales, one problem is to know how far we are con- strained by Bede's text in our search for explanations or how far fragmentary