At the close of the sixth century, there was a Pope of Rome, named Gregory the Great, so called because of his goodness and his talents.
One day, in the year 577, before he was made Pope, as he was passing through the streets of Rome, he saw some beautiful children standing in the marketplace waiting to be sold as slaves.
There fair hair and blue eyes gave them a very different look from that of the swarthy little Italians who played about and stared at the poor little strangers; Gregory's heart was touched by the sight of them, and he asked who they were. The answer was: "They are Angles."
"Angles!" he exclaimed, "they are indeed angels in countenance, and ought to be co-heirs with the angels in heaven."
He then asked the name of the province in Britain from whence they came, and he was told that it was from the northern province Deerland, called in Latin Deira, and de ira means "from the wrath."
"Truly they should be delivered from the wrath of God," said Gregory.
"What is the name of their king?" he asked.
"Alla," replied those who had brought the fair children to Rome.
"Alleluia must be sung in their country," answered the good man; and from that day the thought of the boys with the angel faces was constantly in his mind.
He went to the Pope, and asked him to send him as a missionary to the far-away country of Britain.
The Pope granted his request, but Gregory was so greatly beloved in Rome, that he had gone a three days' journey from the city, the people followed him, and insisted upon his returning to his duties there.
The next year the Pope died of the plague which was raging in the city, and Gregory was elected in his stead.
He remembered those fair children still amongst all his other duties, and one of the first things he did was to send a monk named Augustine, with forty other brethren, on a mission to Britain.
Now as far back as the days of St. Paul, there had been Christians in our own dear country, but heathen nations had invaded the land, and now the only people who confessed the faith of Christ were living in the mountains of Wales, and in the sweet Cornish valleys: but for some reason, they did not attempt to carry the knowledge of the truth into the other parts of the country.
It was in the year 597, that St. Augustine and his monks landed on the Isle of Thanet, near the coast of Kent. Ethelbert was the kin of the country, and he had married Bertha, daughter of the King of Paris, who was a Christian.
Her husband let her worship God in her own way. So she had brought her own chaplain to her husband's court, and had caused an old church in Canterbury, dedicated to St. Martin, which had fallen into ruins, to be restored, where she and her French courtiers went to the service they had been accustomed to go to in France.
Queen Bertha was a very good and holy woman, and for her sake, Ethelbert, when he heard of the arrival of the Roman missionaries, felt inclined to give them a friendly welcome. He agreed to heart what they had to say, but he would not allow them to go to Canterbury; they were to remain in the Isle of Thanet, with the river Stour flowing between himself and them; and he particularly insisted that they must not speak to him under any roof, lest they should use any of the charms and spells, which he had been taught to believe all Christians used.
He sat under a tree and awaited the arrival of the missionaries.
They came up from the shore, headed by St. Augustine; carrying a cross before them and painted picture of our Blessed Lord, and singing a solemn litany, asking for grace to convert the people of Kent to the faith of Christ.
The King heard all they had to say, listening to them very attentively; and on Whitsunday of that same year the Saxon King was baptized, and at Christmas ten thousand of his subjects followed his example.
At. Augustine went to France, and was consecrated a bishop. Then he returned to Kent to rule over the Church there, and the Pope soon after conferred upon his the title of Archbishop of Canterbury. He founded a cathedral upon the very spot where Canterbury Cathedral no stands, and the King built a monastery which he dedicated to St'.s Peter and Paul, but which was afterwards called the monastery of St. Augustine.
It is now called St. Augustine's College, and missionaries are trained there to go out and preach the gospel in heathen lands, just as all those centuries ago the great missionaries from Rome came and preached in Kent.
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