Augustine of Canterbury of the sixth century (not to be confused with Augustine of Hippo, from the fifth C.) was a missionary to Britain, and the first Archbishop of Canterbury. He was first a monk in Rome under the care of Gregory, he ended up being the leader of the monastery after Gregory became pope. Then in 595, Gregory sent Augustine to lead the mission to the land of the Saxons on Brittany, with approximately forty other monks from the same monastery.
In Britain at the time, Ethelbert was king, and he had married Bertha, a Christian princess from France. The Anglo Saxons were pagans, with druid practices. Before now, in the third and fourth centuries, Christianity had come to Britain through the expansion of the Roman empire and the development of trade routes and travel, Christianity had begun to take root due to these means. But since the collapse of the Empire, an earthy paganism had returned.
In the sixth century the kingdom of Britain, ruled by Ethelbert, had Canterbury as the main city. Canterbury is about sixty miles south east of what is now the center of London. Canterbury, although inland, is near to the southeastern coast and therefore more accessible for trade and travel with mainland Europe.
Legend has it (according to Bede, the medieval British historian) Augustine was able to tell the king about the gospel, and king Ethelbert converted to the Christian faith and was baptized at Canterbury Cathedral. Augustine was soon made Archbishop of the Celts and the Angles, overseer of the faith in the land. He became the first Bishop of Canterbury in 597. With the help of Ethelbert he was able to divide the land into separate diocese with ruling Bishops presiding over these districts, many of them identifiable today.
Augustine also saw to the building of monasteries, similar to the one he had been sent from in Rome. These were to be on the outskirts of prominent cities and towns, the first of which was built outside Canterbury. These centers became places of learning and collecting manuscripts and copies of the Scriptures, also places of care and provision for the needy and sick.
Gregory first sent Augustine to Britain with approximately forty other monks from the monastery in Rome. Since being in Britain and seeing the success of the gospel and the establishment of other monasteries across the region Augustine ordained several of them to be priests and these were sent back to mainland northern Europe to witness and evangelize the Saxons in the Netherlands.
For those of us with an Anglo Saxon heritage our cultural debt is to those of the faith like Augustine of Canterbury who took the step of faith to bring the gospel to those nations in the sixth century. Furthermore, in the establishment of the church of England, the seat of Canterbury has remained as the position of leadership and oversight for the rest of the land.