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The British Isles were evangelized perhaps as early as the first century, but the decline of the Roman Empire allowed the Anglo-Saxons to eventually overrun the islands. Christians were massacred, churches destroyed, and the gospel nearly extinguished. The years passed, and one day in Rome an abbot named Gregory saw three blond, blue-eyed British boys being sold in the slave market. His heart went out to them. Being told their nationality he reportedly said, “They are Anglos; let them become angels.” He set out as a missionary, longing to reintroduce Christianity to the British, but the pope called him back before he had reached England. Shortly afterward, being named pope himself, Gregory dispatched a group of 30 or 40 missionaries led by a monk named Augustin.
The group landed near the mouth of the Thames in the spring of 597. They discovered that Queen Bertha of Kent had previously heard the gospel in her native France and had been converted. With her help, King Ethelbert agreed to see Augustin, though he insisted their meeting be conducted in the open air where he thought Augustin’s “magic” wouldn’t affect him. But it did. Hearing Augustin preach, Ethelbert acknowledged Christ as Lord on this day, June 2, 597. Later that year, the king and 10,000 of his subjects were baptized. The message of Christ spread throughout neighboring Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, and as the church grew Augustin was named archbishop. King Ethelbert gave his own castle to the new archbishop, thus establishing the archbishopric of Canterbury as the episcopal center of England.
Augustin, refusing to compromise on points like the dating of Easter and modes of baptism, sowed much discord, marring his record. When he died on May 26, 604, he was buried in the cathedral of Canterbury with these words on his tomb: “Here rests Augustin, first archbishop of Canterbury, who being sent hither by Gregory, bishop of Rome, reduced King Ethelbert and his nation from the worship of idols to the faith of Christ.”
Paul went there to worship, and on three Sabbaths he spoke to the people. He used the Scriptures to show them that the Messiah had to suffer, but that he would rise from death. Paul also told them that Jesus is the Messiah he was preaching about. Some of them believed. (Acts 17:2-4a)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day: 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). June 2.
ALSO ON THIS DAY
1070 – Hereward the Wake (ie: the wary) and his followers, a resistance movement against William the Conqueror, attack and loot Peterborough Abbey, supposedly to keep its wealth from passing under Norman control because a Norman abbot had been appointed.
1895 – Christian educator Zeng Laishun died in Tianjin. He had served the church both in China and the United States, as well as serving in business and administrative posts in China.
1901 – Canadian Presbyterian missionary George Leslie Mackay died in Formosa (Taiwan)from throat cancer. He had been the first foreign missionary commissioned by Canada’s Presbyterian church. In Taiwan his close identification with the Taiwanese had prompted him to take the unusual step of marrying a Chinese woman. Over a century later, he would be the subject of an opera.