As I mentioned previously, on any given day we celebrate a memory of many a saint. Over the course of time, a tradition developed where we commemorate some saints more than others, so they might be a bit more well-known. For this reason, for the upcoming Sunday I would like to talk about one of the Western, Celtic and British, saints - king Ethelbert. He lived before the great schism, which regrettably divide the Church into Western Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox.
King Ethelbert was the first English king to convert to Christianity. His story of conversion begins ... with his wife, queen Bertha. Bertha was the daughter of Charibert I, Merovingian king of Paris. When she married the pagan king Ethelbert of Kent, she brought a bishop with her to England. Ethelbert allowed her to restore an ancient church in Canterbury, which dated from Roman times. She dedicated it to Saint Martin of Tours. The church still stands today.
The native Britons had previously converted to Christianity under Roman rule. The Anglo-Saxon invasions separated the British church from European Christianity for centuries, in fact, the rest of the Church knew so little about the British church that it was unaware of any schism in customs.
In 596, Saint Gregory the Great, pope of Rome, sent Augustine (who would later be canonized a saint of Canterbury), from the monastery of Saint Andrew in Rome, to England as a missionary. In 597, a group of nearly forty monks, led by St Augustine, landed on the Isle of Thanet in Kent. The monks impressed Ethelbert, but he was not converted immediately. He agreed to allow the mission to settle in Canterbury and permitted them to preach. When St Augustine would eventually be consecrated bishop, Ethelbert allowed him to be made Archbishop of Canterbury and gave his own palace to serve as a monastery.
It is not known when Ethelbert became a Christian. At the latest, he must have converted before 601, since that year St Gregory wrote to him as a Christian king. An old tradition records that Ethelbert converted on June 1, feast of Pentecost that year, in the summer of the year that St Augustine arrived. The king's baptism had such an effect in deciding the minds of his wavering countrymen that as many as 10,000 are said to have followed his example within a few months. However, unlike some Christian rulers, Ethelbert refused to see anyone converted forcibly.
Ethelbert later was canonized for his role in establishing Christianity among the Anglo-Saxons, as were his wife and daughter.
Ethelbert reposed in peace in 616, after reigning for fifty six years. He was buried in the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, which he had established. Many miracles were worked at his tomb, where a lamp was kept lit perpetually until the monastery was disbanded by the protestants in 1538.
O God of Creation, Who molded humanity from the fertile earth: Grant that we, following the good examples of queen Bertha and king Ethelbert, may gladly receive and fruitfully nurture the seed of the Gospel to the benefit of Your Kingdom, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Who with You and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Through the prayers of Saints Ethelbert and Bertha, O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Amen.
Yours in Christ,