One day, after seeing some slave children being offered for sale near to the Roman Forum, on being told that they were Angles from England, Gregory is said to have replied,
“Not Angles, but Angels shall they be; the true faith must be brought to them”.
From that moment, Gregory intended to lead a monastic mission to evangelise the Anglo-Saxons, but his project had to be abandoned when plague swept Rome.
But Gregory did not forget his thwarted intention, and following his succession to the papacy he sent Augustine and a team of forty monks to England, to preach the gospel to the pagan 'Anglo-Saxon tribes' that had invaded that country and largely conquered, or displaced, the Celtic Christians previously living there. They were also instructed not to destroy the pagan temples, but rather to consecrate them. And they should continue to keep the old feast days of the country, but give them a Christian connotation.
Gregory took an active interest in their work, writing numerous letters, both to Augustine and his fellow monks, as well as to their English converts, not least of whom was King Ethelbert of Kent, (later to become Saint Ethelbert).
It was Augustine who decided upon Canterbury as the ecclesiastical centre of the country, (rather then London), building Britain's first cathedral there. It was to this see that Augustine was appointed as the first Archbishop of Canterbury
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Text by Bill Smith. Page provided by Ryedale Christian Council Updated 8th May 2004