St Augustine didn’t bring the Gospel to Britain

SIR – In your leading article, “The cost of unity” (September 23), you state that “St Gregory the Great sent out St Augustine of Canterbury and 40 companions to take the Gospel to Britain.”

In fact, the Gospel was already fully inculturated in Britain and the arrival of St Augustine in 597, following the earlier death of St David (587), the first Bishop of Menevia, and St Columba of Iona (597), coincided with the closing years of the “Golden Age” of the Celtic saints. This had witnessed the evangelisation of the native British population, and their conversion to the Catholic faith, during the 5th and 6th centuries.

There were four British bishops at Constantine’s first Church council at Arles in 312, and Augustine himself (according to Bede) had an unhappy meeting with the British bishops, who were left unimpressed by his lack of humility.

St Augustine was not sent to evangelise the British but the newly arrived pagan Anglo-Saxons. Christianity has had a continual uninterrupted presence in Wales since the last years of the Roman Empire, and the last British Catholic King was Prince Llywelyn of Wales, who was killed by the English King Edward I at Cilmeri in 1282.

We must hope that when the present Archbishop of Canterbury met Pope Francis, the centuries of the Catholic Church in Britain before the arrival of St Augustine were not overlooked or forgotten.

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