Page 6, 25th May 1956

25th May 1956
Page 6
Page 6, 25th May 1956 — `SECOND LANDING' OF THE MONKS

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Locations: Rome, Canterbury


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EVERY schoolboy knows that 597 was the year in which St. Augustine and his band of 40 monks landed on the lonely shores of the Isle of Thanet, now a part of East Kent.

Augustine and his followers belonged to the Order of St. Benedict, whose founder had died some 50 years previously, leaving a Holy Rule which was to he followed by thousands of monks throughout the centuries down to the present day.

Why the should have chosen to come to England from Italy. when there were so many pagans within easier reach is not clear. But there is no doubt that the great and learned Pope Gregory— himself a Benedictine—had the heart of a missionary. He is said to have bought fair-skinned English boss in the slave markets in Gaul in order to liberate and educate them. To the dark and tanned Roman. these were not Angles but angels. (" Non angli se angeli.") If we may believe the legend, these words prompted what was perhaps the greatest invasion which this country has ever known. From amongst the monks of the monastery he had founded Gregory chose Augustine, the Prior. to lead what contemporary Rome regarded as a venture into the unknown. In the words. of Arthur Bryant, " Britain (now) seemed to the Mediterranean people a lost land where Nordic demons dwelt in mist and storm, and where. some supposed. the souls of the dead were ferried by night in phantom ships."


HEARING on their journey reports of the ferocity of the Britons, the monks lost heart, and Augustine returned to Rome. It needed the stiffening of Gregory's courage to send them forward.

They finally crossed the Channel in the spring of 597. landing a mile or two from what is now the town of Ramsgate. The Caint or Kent where they found themselves standing was the most populous and civilised part of Britain. In this they were fortunate, but nevertheless they must have felt very lonely and frightened as they stood in their black habits on the shores of an unknown land, foreigners and unarmed. Journeying over the Downs in search of shelter and a friendly hearing, they sang prayers to the saints for protection. ReachingCanterbury they sought the King, Ethelhert. whose Queen, Bertha, was already a Christian, being the daughter of a Frankish king who had received the Faith. The King talked to the mysterious visitors, sitting in the entrance to his tent, fearing that they might he able to cast spells upon him in a confined space. He was not unsympathetic to their message of peace on earth to men of good will with the promise of a one and true God who was a Saviour. Ethelbert gave the monks the ruined Church of St. Martin, which was a relic of some Christian Romans. A year later he was baptised in its font. Christ's message had come In England to stay, and in 601 Augustine, becoming the first Archbishop of Canterbury, received the pallium from Gregory.


UGUSTINE and Ethelbert jointly founded a monastery in Canterbury under the patronage of Sionts Peter and Paul for " the firm establishment of the religious life according to the Rule of St. Benedict, and in order to serve as a scat of learning in the newly Christianised Kingdom" (Gasquct). When Augustine's hod) was laid to rest there, the monastery hecame known as St. Augustine's Abbey. 'throughout the earls Middle Ages this shrine of St. Augustine attracted crowds of pilgrims. Also buried there, or in the closeby Churches of St. Pancras and St. Martin, were King Ethelhest and his Queen. King Eadhald. King Ercombert and King Lothaire. as well as the early Archbishops of Canterbury. including Laurence and Theodore.

The monastery also possessed the first hooks of the English Church, which Gregory sent over to England, 1 hough mans people think that they are copies. there is good reason to believe that the famous ‘'espasian " Book of Psalms" in the British Museum and the "Gospel Book " in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, are two of the original Gregorian books. With the wanton destruction of the 16th century. most of the hooks were undoubtedly lost. just as the tombs of the saints, Kings and Queens were mercilessly smashed and their contents scattered to the winds. John Essex was the last Abbot of St. Augustine's, Canterbury. In July. 1538. •he was persuaded by the King's Commissioner to resign his office and to give the monastic property to Henry VIII. At that time the Abbot was trying to obtain early prints of the classics from Rome to add to the monastery's famous library. He was soon to see both the monastery and library ransacked. To-day St. Augustine's, Canterbury, is barely a ruin.


BUT history has a way of repeating itself, and this coming August will mark the centenary of the founding of a second St. Augustine's Abbey. One hundred sears ago another Benedictine monk. this time an Englishman. called Wilfred Alcock, arrived at Ramsgate to start a new mission and begin another monastery dedicated to the same Apostle of the English. This monk journeyed also from Italy, though not from Rome as before. but from the famous Abbey at Subiaco, where he had gone to join the Order. Shortly after he had taken up residence in Ramsgatc, in the August of 1856, more monks arrived from Subiaco. Just as the first missionaries had found a friend in King Ethelbert, who gave them a church, their 19th-century successors received a similar favour.

Augustus W'elhy Pugin. architect of St. Augustine's Church.

Only a few years before their arrival a fine church had been built on the West Cliff of the town by Augustus Wethy Pugin. He dedicated it to the St. Augustine of Canterbury who had landed on the shores below.

Pugin had died at the age of 40. worn out by what had already been more than a lifetime's work. He was the architect of over 40 churches, including St. Chad's Cathedral. Birmingham, and the now bombed and ruined St. George's. Southwark. With Barv. he played a considerable part in the erection of the Houses of Parliament. Yet he believed that St. Augustine's. Ramsgate, was his greatest work. His death left the work unfinished, although more than £15,000 had hcen spent on it. The church tower has still to he built. Four years after the architect's death—and burial in the South transept—the church was handed over to the spiritual. descendants of the patron he had chosen for it.


IN September, 1897, the Benedictines commemorated the 13th centenary of the coming of St. Augustine. and services were The North Cloister of the Abbey Church with the memorial altar to Abbot Wilfred and Stations of the Cross by de Beaule of Ghent.

held in the field close to the ahhes. which contains St. Augustine's Cross marking the traditional landing spot. By this time, St. Augustine's had been raised to the dignity of an abbe). and Wilfred Alcock had been made an abbot; in fact he was the first in this country since the Reformation. To-day this second St. Augustine's Abbey carries on the work undertaken by the original house at Canterbury. Churches have been built throughout the Isle of Thanes nearly all of them served to the monks. Two flourishing boss' schools are attached to the monastery, which also has its own printing press and farm. There is a library of some 20,000 classical and liturgical volumes similar to that of the first abbey. With all these things the monks endeavour to praise God and serve His people. When the community celebrates the centenary of the return on August 24 they will do it with hearts thankful for their great progress in various fields of endeavour and with gratitude for the protection which God has shown them. For it came to light, from documents that fell into Allied hands at the end of the war, that the Germans had planned to turn the monastery into their headquarters after landing on the Kentish shores. Had the Germans come. history might have again repeated itself, demolishing the work of those who come only in peace.

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