In Kent I see the result of a murder – I visit the most historic grounds in England and the oldest church in Europe – At Lyminge I find the memory of a tragic queen.
I was stranded at Newark. I walked two miles/3.2km down the Great North Road and hitched half-heartedly, but traffic was sparse and such vehicles as hurtled by were anxious to get home and had no time to stop for a lone hiker. In the fading light I walked back into town, hungry and rather chilly, and spent an hour searching in vain for a bed at one of the hotels or public houses. The bars were cosy, filled with warm chatter, and outside it was beginning to rain. At the station a girl engrossed in a crossword puzzle said that the next train left at 3 a.m. Disconsolately I caught the last bus` to Grantham. It was the last bus` anywhere.
At Grantham it was too dark to find the hotels, but there was a train to London at 2.30 a.m. which I decided to catch. In the meantime I found a milk-bar which provided me with sausage and chips, coffee and ham sandwiches: a royal meal. Back at the station the booking-office was closed, but I persuaded the girl at the barrier to let me through, and in the serverely uncomfortable waiting-room stretched myself on a seat and, with haversack as pillow, settled to sleep.
I was awakened just after seven. A soldier, singing lustily and out of tune, flung open the door, thrust in a red and grinning countenance, shouted, “Shut door, lad, shut door,” and obeying his own injunction, returned to the platform and his tuneless melody. Past midnight an express shrieked through the station, its wheels beating rhythmically, the siren-cry of its whistle dying into the echoeing distance – pure poetry, imparting a delicious air of drowsy contentment to the bare and cheerless room. While I slept others had come. A man sat at the table, three beer bottles ranged before him, and turned the pages of a tattered magazine over and over again; each time he reached the centre page he would pause, a slow smile would suffuse his countenance and he would chuckle loudly. An airman asleep in the next chair, his head on the table cushioned in his elbow, stirred restlessly, flung out an arm and sent the bottles rolling and clattering to the floor. Their owner swore softly and went down on his knees to retrieve them. An old workman, dozing in the far corner, started up and explained blasphemously to no one in particular that if we had his stomach we wouldn`t be able to sleep anyway. On another bench a man snored at peace, unconscious of these interruptions.
The train was full and there were people lying in the corridors. As I passed a compartment a soldier suddenly jerked up the blind and said, “Room for one here, Jock.” There were seven others, all sleeping with a variety of vacuous expressions, mouths agape, and the atmosphere was heavy with stale smoke and the warm smell of muffled bodies.
I was awakened by the soldier punching me violently in the ribs and saying in a panic-stricken voice, “Man, man, the train`s stopped.” A woman opposite heaved herself away from a sleeping airman who was lolling across her breast, breathing stertorously, and said, “I can hear voices; it must be a station.” The soldier thrust his head out of the window and in answer to his enquiry a voice from the outer darkness said, “King`s Cross.” We must have been in some minutes, for apart from our compartment the train was deserted and the platform was empty but for two porters who, beneath the cold glare of an electric light, were sorting mail bags.
“Can I get a wash and brush up?” I asked one
“Opens at eight,” he replied, without pausing to look up.
“What about the Refreshment Room?”
“Opens at eight.”
I walked across to St. Pancras; but there, too, nothing was available until eight o`clock. And I had been told that London never slept! At the bottom of the steps I discovered a coffee stall lit by a sickly oil lamp and encircled by groups of shadowed figures who clutched steaming white cups and talked in whispers, like conspirators. A ragged and unshaven loafer tottered round gathering empty cups and replacing them on the stall where they were seized by the proprietor, dipped into a bucket of greasy water, whisked with a cloth and refilled from the urn. Coffee lay on the counter in dirty puddles and ran in a slow, muddy river down the gutter. But it was hot. An army officer strode suddenly out of the darkness into the yellow lamplight, looked at my cup and grimaced.
“You don`t know where one can get a wash and brush up?” I asked him.
He hummed a line from `Pagliacci,` “At this hour! What madness!” and shook his head. “I`ve tried King`s Cross and St. Pancras.”
“So have I.”
“Might be luckier at Paddington.”
“Or Charing Cross.”
“Which shall it be?”
We tossed a coin; Paddington won.
Here we were more fortunate, for the Wash and Brush Up opened at 6.30, and we joined the queue outside the glass-panelled door. A man in shirt-sleeves appeared suddenly, rattling a bunch of keys, expressed the hope that we had brought our own towels and disappeared through the door, locking it behind him. He made several reappearances, unlocking and locking the door before and behind himself as though fearful we should steal the soap, and when at last he condescended to admit us we crept past him like sheep arraigned for dipping. But afterwards, washed and shaved, one could face the day with new enthusiasm, and the officer suggested breakfast at the Paddington Hotel.
At the door of the hotel a WAAF was standing. “Been here over an hour,” she grumbled, “ringing since 6.15, but they might be dead.”
We waited patiently for five minutes and then, exasperated, I asked a porter if there wasn`t another entrance.
“What`s wrong with that one?” he said.
“Just that it`s shut.”
“You`re telling me!”
“He seems to think that it ought to be open,” I said to the officer.
The officer said, “Have you tried the door?”
“Oh no,” said the girl, “I don`t think I have.”
We marched triumphantly into breakfast, the girl very red and embarrassed.
Over the meal the officer told me that he had been stationed in Somerset whare a farmer had proved troublesome, complaining daily of raids by the soldiers on his orchards. At last the officer agreed to detail a patrol each night to guard the orchard; next morning he had found his table graced with a large pile of apples and a scribbled note:
`With the compliments of your patrol.`
It was still early and the sun was shining when I caught the train to kent.
It started with murder. Two little boys, cousins of the king, were killed by Thumor, a thegn, and their bodies were buried under the throne at the royal abode at Sandwich. The choice of the grave was cunning. No one would think of looking for corpses under the throne, and if they did they could hardly go digging about it on no more than a suspicion. The children would be thought lost in the great forests towards Sussex, perhaps, or caught by a wild beast, or drowned in the river. Enquiries would die down soon enough, and people would forget. And once more the king would sit assured upon hid throne, the guilty secret hidden at his very feet. No doubt the motive was jealousy, or fear for the succession, for in Saxon times the choice of the next king rested with the witan and the title did not pass necessarily from father to son. So Thumor carried out the brutal deed, and Egbert, King of Kent, turned a blind eye.
Than came the disconcerting light. It was not an ordinary light, for it came from nowhere on particular; it shone without reason, and it shone above the throne at Sandwich. Naturally people became curious; they talked; they speculated. Eventually they dug under the throne, and they found two little corpses.
Perhaps the king had not meant Thumor to be so drastic; perhaps he was really sorry; he pretended to be. As a penance, he offered to give land for the erection of a nunnery on the Isle of Thanet. It was agreed that a doe should be released and that wherever it ran there should be the boundaries of the nunnery. In a fit of rage Thumor chased the doe, endeavouring to kill it, fell into a well and himself was killed.
The nunnery was called Minister and was completed in 670. Domneva, widowed sister of the murdered boys, was appointed abbess and received her veil from Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury. Later she was joined by her two daughters, and one, St. Mildred, succeeded her. Of Mildred herself very little is known, except that she achieved great popularity, so mush so that it was decided after her death to move her shrine to Canterbury, to the fury and sorrow of the nuns. But, perhaps, they had not fully appreciated the honour of having her remains buried in their church, for once a young monk dozed beside the tomb and the saint appeared to him, gave him a hearty box on the ear and said, “Understand, young man, that this is an oratory for praying, not a dormitory for sleeping.”
I came to Minster late that evening and found the spacious church, with its tall spire, standing a little behind the straggling villge street, like a benign ut experienced mother who, having seen both the seamy and the kindly side of life, kept watch above her latest children in the sure knowledge that good must conquer in the end. There were apple-trees everywhere, rosy with fruit. In a case at the back of the church was a seventeenth-century wooden chalic.
A woman was sweeping the nave, and, as I left, I asked her which was I went to Ebbsfleet.
“Of course,” she said, as she directed me, “there`s nothing to see there.”
I walked down a long lane, with thick, dark hedges on either hand. The sky was overcast, with low and heavy clouds, and the air was chilly with approaching rain. Presently I met six cows ambling homewards, driven by a small boy who assured me that I was on the right road.
“But,” he added, “there`s nothing to see at Ebbsfleet.”
The lane ran into a high road, with a choice of left and right hand turnings, and I stood hestitating which was to go. A cylclist came into view, and I blocked his path and enquired my direction.
“Ebbsfleet?” he said; “turn right. There`s nothing at Ebbsfleet, though. If it`s Ramsgate you want—————“
“No,” I said, “I want Ebbsfleet.”
He shrugged his shoulders, remarked that it looked like rain, and remounting, pedalled away. Another mile/1.6km and the road divided; there was a cottage on the corner, and a small girl playing in the garden. I asked her which road I should take; she gaped at me and, without answering, ran indoors calling her mother. The mother came to the gate to ask incredulously if I truly want to go to Ebbsfleet.
“Yes,” I said, feeling impatient, “I want to go to Ebbsfleet.”
“Now, the Ramsgate road————.”
“No,” I said firmly, “the Ebbsfleet road.”
She pointed the way and watched me, as I plodded off again, with an expression which seemed to question my mental balance. Did no one ever go to Ebbsfleet, I wondered. The rain begun to fall, a fine, icy drizzle at first, than more heavily, while, above, a dull and leaden sky threatened a prolonged downpour. I stopped to slip off my haversack while I put on my macintosh; as I did so a small car drew up beside me and a cheery gentleman shouted, “You there! You`re going to get wet. Better have a lift.
I said, “Thanks very much, but I`m going to Ebbsfleet.” I knew by now that it was quite impossible that any other person would harbour so foolish an ambition.
“Ebbsfleet?” he said; “but there`s nothing there. I can take you into Ramsgate.”
“There`s only a farmhouse and a couple of cottages——-“
“Yes, I know. But you see, I`m writing a book about St. Augustine, and he landed at Ebbsfleet, and I want to see it.”
“Well, if you stand there talking,” he said, “you`ll be soaked through in no time. Get inside and I`ll drive you there.”
I said, “that`s awfully kind of you.”
So at last I came to Ebbsfleet, with the rain drumming on the roof and running in fast rivulets down the windscreen, all but obscuring such view as remained. I saw a rise of land, a huddled farmhouse, a few scattered cottages set drearily beneath an ominous sky – scene of wildness and desolation. Yet this was the most historic earth in England, for here, so it is said, Augustine landed from Gaul, first Christian missionary to the Saxons, and here, two hundred years before, the Jutes had landed under Hengist and Horsa, and English feet had touched the soil of England for the first time.
Farther on there were new bungalows crouching under trees, and beyond a little bridge which ran above the road, St. Augustine`s Golf House – how very incongruous with an unavoidable vision of the cassocked monk swinging a club! – and a stone cross beside the road to mark the spot – incidentally, almost certainly the wrong spot – where the Italian met the Saxon King Ethelbert and told him the story of Jesus. Then, beyond again, there was s wide view of Pegwell bay, black-blue and streaked with silver, faintly ruffled, with gold rays of sunlight pouring in long , slender shafts from behind the evil darkness of the storm clouds. And even as we looked the storm broke in al its concentrated fury; gusts of sodden wind rocked the car, buffeting great loads of rain upon the glass, and out of the dark distance thunder rolled its sullen drums, as though the old gods of lost Valhalla were venting their last, impotent fury upon the scene to which had come the pale Gallean to conquer lusty Wotan and bloodthirsty Thor.
Across the bay had come the long boats of the Jutes, with many oars rising and dipping and the sunlight catching the bronze of breastplate and the silver sheen of spear and sword. Across this bay had come a more peaceful galley, bearing a black-coated monk of tall and impressive figure, with a great cross uplifted and a board painted with the Figure of One Crucified. For, though I think it is very doubtful whether Augustine came to Ebbsfleet, it is certain that he sailed across Pegwell bay.
When Gregory sent this expedition to Kent he seems to have been under the impression that Britain was unchanged from Roman times; and his plans were, in consequence, two centuries out of date. The Saxons had avoided the Roman towns, no doubt for the same superstitious reasons which had persuaded them to destroy Roman statues as being implements of unfriendly magic, and their own settlements, while often near the Roman ones, were on fresh soil. In those days Thanet was truly an island, cut off from the mainland by broad waters, and the two extremities of this water had been guarded by Roman forts at Reculver and Richborough. The latter had also been a naval base; its massive fort had walls twelve feet/3.9m and thirty/16m high, while a two-hundred-foot/60m lighthouse guided the ships into the safety of the harbour. But when Augustine came – and almost certainly Gregory directed him to the old Roman fort – it would already be ruinous and decayed.
Great men are nearly always remembered by the ordinary people for mere trivialities – Wellington`s boots and Gladstone`s bag, for instance. Gregory, Bishop of Rome, is remembered for his puns. No other bishop has gone down in history as the maker of good puns. Gregory was one of the greatest figures of his times, noted both for his wise statesmanship and the gentle holiness of his lovable character. Every day he fed twelve poor men at his table, and once, it is said, there were mysteriously thirteen. Once, too, he underwent violent self-punishment because someone told him of a pauper who had starved to death. This incident is typical of the man; he was, first and foremost, a sympathizer, and in every generation and every nation it is sympathy which is man`s great and enduring need, for most people find the world a place of knocks and hardships.
When he was elected by popular demand to the papal throne Gregory valiantly withstood the doctrine of papal infallibility. He rebuked the Patriarch of Constantinople for calling himself the `universal bishop` and at the same time denied that his own see might claim the title. Yet his very gifts and talents did more to establish the papal authority than those of any other man, and, holding it as his duty to supervise the missionary Church of the West and to interfere in ecclesiastical matters in the East when intervention was necessary, (with respect the first six synods of the Othordox Church laid the foundation of the True Church, the Patriach of Rome was first of the five, Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria, his interference was ignored by the Orthodox Church, Rome in the end broke from Orthodoxy in 1054 and declared war on all other Christian Churches, as being heritical in their eyes, hence the Reformation later on), but was equal to the others his great wisdom, his boldness, his kindliness, all combined to make him, and his bishopric through him, the dominating power of Christendom.
The truth is, of course, that every bishop is a universal bishop by right of ordination, but by authority of appointment his jurisdiction is limited to a specified sphere. Because the Bishop of Rome now sent missionaries to Britain it did not give him canonical rights over the Church of their foundation. Once the missionary diocese had evolved into a new province, with its own archbishop, it might be advised by its parent-bishop, but it could not rightly to dictated to.
But to return to the puns of Gregory. One morning he was walking through the slave market at Rome when his attention was attracted by some boys with golden hair and fair complexions who were being offered for sale, and he enquired from what country they came.
“From the land of the heathen Angles,” replied the vendors. “They are more like angels,” said Gregory; and when he was told that their king was one Aella of Deira, he added, “Surely they must learn to cry Alleluia to the King of Heaven, and be delivered de ira Dei – from the wrath of God.”
From that moment he planned to go to Britain as a missionary. It was about 588, for in that year Aella died, and in 590 Gregory, with some companions, set out from Rome. They stopped beside the road for food, and as he lay on the grass a locust jumped on to the book which he was reading.
“Locusta,” exclaimed Gregory; “surely that must mean locusta – stay here.”
And presently a crowd of citizens came flying down the road to carry him back to Rome and set him on the bishop`s throne. In contrast to this popularity of Gregory, his successor was so disliked that when he died the burial took place in secrecy for fear of hostile demonstrations.
Now, tied to Rome by arduous duties, Gregory had to abandon any idea of visiting Britain. He lived in troublesome times, and his position would be fraught with difficulties and problems. The western empire was crumbling, the imperial city was but a shadow of its old nobility, the prey of brigands, tax-gatherers and quacks, and within thirty years the grim form of Muhammed was to darken the horizon and to challenge the Christ.
Gregory suggested that English youths should be purchased from the slave markets of Gaul and trained as missionaries for their own people, but apparently the plan did not materialize, for no more is heard of it. The Church in Gaul was, at the time, apathetic, and, anyway, missionaries cannot be so automatically produced. Another six years slipped by and still England remained unevangelized, though it is probable that there was those in this country who had actually requested the opportunity of conversion. Then, in 596, Gregory evolved his third plan.
St. Benedict had already lived and died, establishing the monastic system. To Benedict the monastery was ideally a community of Christians withdrawn partially from the world, pursuing their secular vocation in an isolated and self-contained Christian settlement, and having their prime object the simple and practical living of the Gospel life. (this was already taking place in Eygpt). The nursery of the Benedictines was Monte Cassino, and when it was raided by the Lombards many of its inmates fled to Rome where Gregory welcomed and rehoused them. But Gregory had a different ideal for the monastery. It was to be a Christian community apart from the world that, from it, experts in Christian living might go out into the world; it was to be a reservoir of learning and missionary prayer. Now, with thoughts of Britain revived, Gregory turned to the monks and sent Augustine with a few companions to bear the gospel to Kent.
How different might the history of the English Church have been had Gregory come himself. He was a great man; Augustine was a little man. Gregory was outstandingly gifted; Augustine was a very ordinary, if well-meaning person. And so an exceptional man sent an unexceptional man to tackle a work that play too big for him. As well might a great pianist endeavour to play a Beethoven concerto on the keyboard of a toy piano. The stage is set for failure.
Augustine left Rome in 596 and, with a dozen or so companions, came to the monastery of Patrick. Here he experienced cold feet and made the long journey back to Rome to ask Gregory if the whole expedition might no be cancelled. The indignation of the pope may be imagined. It is impossible to find any excuse for Augustine`s cowardly and timorous conduct. It has been said that he was frightened by the tales he heard of Saxon savagery and the barbarous manners of Englishmen, but that is nonsense. He cannot have been ignorant of the fact that Ethelbert, King of Kent, had married a Christian lady named Bertha, daughter of his overlord, the King of Paris, by a wife later divorced, and that, therefore, Ethelbert was a gentleman of culture and breeding, even though a pagan. He must have known too that Queen Bertha had taken to Kent her own chaplian, Bishop Luidhard, who no doubt had baptized at least come members of her personal retinue, so that there was a Christian nucleus awaiting the Italian at Canterbury. Besides which, there remained that odd little story of a Frankish bishop who was degraded for some misdemeanour and who, until his recall in 545, worked in Kent for seven years as a gardener.
The attempt of Augustine to back out of his task is typical of the man, the earliest sign of that littleness of character which was to mar his entire mission. Reading the ancient record one feels that such success as they in Kent was chiefly the result of Ethelbert`s wisdom and very attractive sincerity.
Yet there is an air of mystery shrouding the beginnings of this expedition which tempts one to believe that Gregory had his man fairly well summed up and held no great hopes for the success of the venture. The whole affair has the aspect of a hastily and not very enthusiastically prepared experiment, for he sent Augustine forth accompanied by no bishop, and, therefore, with no machinery for the building of a native ministry; with no introductions to the bishops of Gaul to help him on his journey, and, apparently, with none but the most vague instructions as to how he should proceed on his arrival. Was Gregory secretly of the opinion that nothing could come of this attempt? He had sent Augustine rather than send nobody, but he knew in his heart that he required a man of sterner stuff to be the pioneer-builder of the English Church. However, the unexpected reappearance of the monk at Rome in so short a time changed Gregory`s mind, and what he had set out to do with a doubting heart he now threw himself into with vigour and determination. Their interview must have been a lively one – the pope, who himself had for years yearned to have just this opportunity which Augustine now despised, striding his study floor in speechless fury before this miserable lack of spirit, while the stammering Augustine endeavoured wretchedly to excuse himself. But when he returned to Lerins he went with increased authority, as abbot and no longer as a mere monk, and he bore letters to bishops in Gaul. The parting injunction from Gregory can be imagined: “I send you to plant the Church of England. I do not wish to see your face in Rome again unless you come as Archbishop of the English.”
On only one occasion did Augustine experience anything in the nature of danger, and that was in Anjou where the natives for some strange reason, thought that he and his party were were-wolves, and greeted them with hostility in consequence. As he strode out of their province, pale and trembling, doubtless he blessed Pope Gregory and his ambitions and wished himself a thousand miles away, with his face to Rome and the protected seclusion of his comfortable monastery.
At length he landed at Richborough with nearly thirty Frankish interpreters, which alone is commentary enough on his nervous state. The Franks he sent to Canterbury to bear the news of his arrival, and Ethelbert returned a courteous answer, bidding them await him on the coast. The king feared that if he interviewed the strangers under the palace roof they might be able to exert magical influence upon him, and so the historic meeting took place in the open air.
The ancient British Church had fled to the Weston the arrival of the pagan Saxons, and no attempt had been made to convert the invader. The Church in Gaul was deteriorating, and showed no interest in the religious future of this island, while Bishop Luidhard was content to the chaplain to the queen who, probably for the sake of domestic peace, had not troubled to change her husbands Faith. One may even suspect that the royal couple had compromised with an arrangement by which the boys followed their father`s paganism and the girls their mother`s Christianity, for Eadbald, who succeeded Ethelbert, remained a pagan even after his father`s baptism, while Ethelburga, their daughter, was a Christian. But that is only conjecture.
Meanwhile, Ethelbert listened politely to Augustine`s message, and finding it only the already familiar story told him by his wife, allowed him to lodge at Canterbury near St. Alphege`s Church. In the meantime, he called a meeting of the witan, for religion was a tribal affair and the king could not act in the matter apart from the will of his tribe, and it was agreed that Christianity should become the official Faith, the king and chief nobles accepting Baptism, but no undue pressure being used to coerce the common people, although those who followed the king`s example were favoured and esteemed.
I went to Canterbury now by the old Roman road through Ash and Wingham, the road by which Augustine too had travelled there. The hop gardens had been stripped, and the bare poles remained, standing nakedly in the empty fields. Several years ago I worked for six weeks in the hop gardens near Wingham. It was the year in which America gave up Prohibition, and I remember saying to one of the farmers, “You`ll get a better price for your hops now that the States are going back to beer.”
“Beer!” he said scornfully; “we don`t sell hops for beer now-a-days. The chemist has taken our place there. All our hops go to make green dye.”
When, later, I repeated that remark to a chemist employed by a large brewery, he was highly indignant and said that certainly the brewers still purchased hops.
There is an atmosphere of hurry and rush about the ancient city of Canterbury, as though the inhabitants felt slightly inferior to those of more modern townships, and are anxious to impress upon you that, despite their ancient associations, they are just as up-to-date as anybody ele. The streets are narrow and invariably crowded, with exciting little shops of books and curios squeezed between larger establishments, having just enough window-space to be noticed, like cheeky boys peeping through adults legs at a football match. And you feel that, however lost you may be, however unable to discover what you seek, you must on no account stop anyone to ask the way, for, like the White Rabbit, they are all so engrossed in hurrying nowhere in particular. There is a happy, amusing air about Canterbury, and you find yourself pausing in the street and smiling, for obviously these people must not be taken very seriously.
The cathedral, of pale, majestic stone, stands just off the High Street, self-conscious of its beauty, and massive oaken doors give admittance to the close through the twin turreted Great Gateway, its ceiling richly coloured, and its appearance for all the world as though it were a gaint castle in a game of chess. But the cathedral is Norman, the handiwork of Lanfranc, Anselm, and others of later generations, and without any Saxon work remaining, and others of later generations, and without any Saxon work remaining, and, although Augustine built the first church on this site, there are others things to see in Canterbury more closely associated with his times.
I spent only a little time in the cathedral, enough to revisit the site of Becket`s martyrdom and the tomb of the Black Prince, with its stern effigy of the sleeping knight. There is a lovely font, delicately coloured in blue and gold, and in the northern transept a boldly carved tablet depicting a lady standing on the deck of a ship from which the corpse of her departed husband is being lowered into the sea. The ancient, so-called Chair of St. Augustine, in which the primate sits for his consecration and which has been used for untold generations, had been removed to safety during the war. In Augustine`s day the altar stood at the west end, with the bishop`s chair beyond it.
Augustine went to Arles for consecration, for the Archbishop of Arles was the Papal Vicar of the Franks, and the city derived prominence from having been the seat of the Roman Governor-General of Gaul. Just before his death in 604 he himself consecrated Laurence to be his successor, and later his bones were removed from the porch of the monastery church and laid beside the High Altar of the cathedral. Walk reverently, then, for under your feet may yet remain the lost relics of the first missionary to the English people.
I walked down Burgate to look at the hospital in Longport Street, which occupies the site of Augustine`s monastery, built outside the walls of the Roman city; you may still see the crumbling remains of these walls. In Norman times the monastery grew to great prominence, its abbot, whose retinue was more magnificent than that of any bishop, took next place to the Abbot of Monte Cassino at councils of the Benedictines, but Henry VIII spoiled the building in 1538 and made part of it into a palace for himself; in the last century `18th` the grounds were used for firework displays and dancing. Now it has been beautifully restored and stands beside the hospital; it is a college for the traiing of missionary priests.
Behind it lie the poor remains of a tiny church. Augustine found this church on his arrival; it had been built of Roman bricks by British Christians, and Ethelbert had used it as an idol house. Now Augustine restored it for worship and dedicated it to St. Pancras, a boy of fourteen whom Diocletian had martyred in 304. Augustine`s monastery at Rome stood on ground presented to the Church by Pancras`s parents, and the boy`s tomb was near the city walls and regarded so highly that it was said if any swore falsely by it he would immediately be whisked away to hell. A stone of St. Pancras`s Church at Canterbury was supposed to bear the claw-mark of a demon made in a last attempt to resist eviction by the Christian monks.
Farther down the road you will come to what is, perhaps, the most ancient church in Europe, the Church of St. Martin. It was almost certainly in use in Roman times, although a few years ago someone made vthe wise remark that “St. Martin`s cannot possibly be a Roman church, since no Roman churches have yet been discovered in this country.” It is possible that it owes its dedication to a personal visit from Martin while he was Bishop of Tours, for churches were in those early days more often than not named after founders, and Martin had contact with the Emperor Maximus and would learn from him of Britain and its need of Christ; he may himself have supervised the construction of this building.
Near the altar is a stone commemorating the burial of Ethelbert, who here was laid to his last rest. The tiny church, its walls a complicated jig-saw pattern of ancient stones, has the quiet and studious atmosphere born of long having withstood the ravages of time and the passing vagaries of the changing generations, for St. Martin`s is older than the English nation.
I knelt in the cool, dim interior beside the old font in which, perhaps, the first Christian king of the Anglo-Saxon race was baptized, and thought of many generations who, from the times of faraway Bishop Luidhard and Queen Bertha, had hallowed these walls with their prayers and praises, and had changed England from a land of barbarous manners and quarrelsome tribes to a united and peaceful nation with its beneficent influence reaching to the ends of the world.
When Augustine arrived Queen Bertha was using St. Martin`s as her chapel. The royal couple would thus leave the palace, which stood where now is the cathedral, and which, Ethelbert moved to Reculvers when he gave Augustine the site for building, and they would go down Burgate together to part outside the walls, the king to his heathen worship at St. Pancras`, the queen to her Christian devotions at St. Martin`s. but on the eve of Whitsuntide all that changed, for Ethelbert was baptized.
The font at St. Martin`s is a tub-like construction, very old, and the seal of the monastery bears a picture of a man seated on the edge of this font, prepared for Baptism by immersion. Perhaps this is meant to represent Ethelbert, for it is just possible that he received Baptism in the font which is still in use today. His submission to Christ may have cost him his Bretwalda, for it seems probable that he afterwards lost his overlordship of the tribes north of the Thames, who refused to be ruled by one who had denied the gods of their ancestors. When the sons of Sabert banished Bishop Mellitus from London they were striking for tribal independence and the right for self-government.
The Baptism of king and witan in 598 was the signal for the submission of practically the whole tribe, and shortly afterwards Augustine baptized ten thousand in the River Swale, the number of candicates being so great that the water, having been blessed, was passed from hand to hand, and the new converts baptized themselves. But, like all institutions born of mass movements, the foundationof the new Church were weak and insecure, and when Eadbald succeeded to his father`s throne and, in defiance of Christian teaching, married his step-mother, a lady whom Ethelbert had wedded on Bertha`s death, there was widespread return to paganism which Eabald still professed.
Justus, bishop of the church which Ethelbert had built at Rochester, and Mellitus, banished from London, fled to Gaul, but Laurence, the new archbishop, himself ready to follow them, made a last effort to regain the ground which these timorous churchmen were so easily persuaded to abandon. In the morning he presented himself to Eadald, with the story of a vision of St. Peter which he had received during the night, and then suddenly stripped of his clothing to reveal on his back the livid weals of a scourge. The king demanded to know who had dared to treat the archbishop so, and Laurence replied that it was the work of the apostle to show the divine disapproval of the banishment of the Church. The superstitious king, easily impressed, immediately swing over in favour of Christianity, was baptized, and built a church at Dover as proof of his sincerity, while his daughter, Eanfrid, founded the first English nunnery at Folkstone.
Thirty years later another of Augustine`s party, Paulinus, who accompanied Ethelberga to the north when she married Edwin, the heathen King of Northumbria, reflected this spirit of timidity which stained the Italian mission from the start to finish, by abandoning his flock in the hour if need.
When Augustine was consecrated archbishop he received a pall from Gregory as a sign of honour. The pall was woven from wool of lambs kept by the convent of St. Agnes at Rome, embroidered with four crosses and laid overnight on the tomb of St. Peter. Originally it was presented by the emperor to bishops recommended by the pope, as a mark of esteem, but when the papacy usurped the imperial magnificence it was presented directly by the pope, later becoming the badge of metropolitans, and at the height of the papacy`s power the archbishop must travel to Rome to receive it.
But Augustine, despite the award, failed his master. Gregory had planned for the archbishopric to be situated at London, twelve diocesans were to be appointed to care for the whole country, and friendly relations, with inter-communion, were to be established with the British Christians. Augustine never went to London, and once his remains were enshrined at Canterbury there was no hope of the spiritual capital of the realm being moved. He made no attempt to convert the neighbouring tribes, and Sussex, separated from him by only a belt of forest, remained pagan for yet another century. Instead of gaining unity with the members of the British Church, he offended them with an unseemly display of arrogance and pride. When they refused to accept him as their archbishop he lowered his dignity so far as to pronounce a curse upon them, and Bede regarded Ethlefrid`s massacre of the British monks at Chester in 613 as the fulfilment of this curse, which indicates at least that the archbishop was remembered more for his severity than for his charity – not a good testimonial for a Christian missionary.
On another occasion this pride caused him trouble when he was chased out of Stroud, the people flinging fish-tails at him. This time he is supposed to have cursed his opponents so that the men of Stroud were ever afterwards born with tails. When Mary, Queen of Scots, celebrated the Baptism of James I with a masque of French dancers at Stirling Castle, some of the performers, dressed as animals, paused before the English deputation and wagged their tails at them, which was regarded as a deadly insult because it was a reminder of the way in which Englishmen had once rejected their archbishop.
In much the same fashion people in Hartlepool today are greatly incensed if you enquire, “What have you done with the monkey?” because years ago, during the French war, they are said to have arrested and hanged a monkey in mistake for a French spy. I remember once leaving Hartlepool by train when, as we moved out of the platform, a young man leaned out of a carriage window and shouted to the porter, “What have you done with the monkey?” But the porter was quick to reply, “What`s the matter – lost your grandmother?”
It is evident that Augustine was a rustic, uneducated except in the most narrow clerical fashion, and quite incapable of fulfilling the statesman-like task of a metropolitan. Most pitiful of all, instead of driving on to become the archbishop of a country, he was content to remain, for all practical purposes, a mere royal chaplain, with a diocese co-extensive only with the tribe. But the coming of the Roman mission did at least mean that the English tribes were brought into closer touch with civilization, though the hardest work in the conversion of the land remained to be done with zeal and thoroughness by the more determined and courageous Scots.
An American, driving a van very fast, took me along the high, clean road which runs from Canterbury to Dover, and from which you may survey the green and pleasant garden of Kent paid out gentle valleys and quiet hills on either side, and there was a windmill set high against the fleecy white of clouds. At Barham, with its green church spire, we turned into winding, narrow roads and dived downwards to the peaceful village of Lyminge. Behind the cottages, screened with copper beeches and slender larches, there was a grey church, with a single flying buttress protruding oddly from its side and an old Mass clock scratched on a stone beside the priest`s door on the western side.
Near the porch were the scanty remains of a Saxon church built by Ethelburga, daughter of Ethelbert and the wife of Edwin, King of Northumbria, who fled with Paulinus in 634 after the slaying of her husband in battle. Here she built a nunnery where she might spend her last days, and where her body lay at rest until Lanfrac translated her remains to Canterbury. In the north wall there is an inscribed tablet marking the place of her tomb: `Filiae Regum in Caris Tuis Aethelburgae Reg. Aestheberti Filiae Eccles. Limingensis Fundatricis M.S.`
Her two children she sent for safety to Gaul, and for thirteen years she served God humbly in the wooded seclusion of this quiet village. The people nicknamed her `Tatta` – `The Darling` – and the low hill which seperates Lyminge from Puckleworth is still known as Tatta`s Lea. The church at Puckleworth, the smallest in Kent and the only dedicated to St. Oswald, also owes its foundation to the tragic queen.
How gay and colourful a procession had left Canterbury previously, by way of Watling Street, travelling the length of England to give a young and sweet-natured princess to Edwin for his bride, but with tears and bitter memories had she returned, to be parted from her children and to leave her husband`s body upon a far-off field of battle – and with him now many broken hopes!
A lorry drove me through Ashford, whic boasts the second largest cattle-market in the country, to unkempt and unattractive Maidstone, which reminded me of a fat and blousy woman who had crawled late from bed and gone out without washing. And here I caught the train for London.
The carriage was crowded, and, as is usual when you travel after dark, everybody talked. In the corner sat a cheery, red-faced woman whom you might have imagined to be the mother of a large and happy family. Suddenly, just outside Chatham, she began to weep; she sobbed heavily and wearily into a flimsy square of handkerchief. Conversation dried up; nobody spoke. At Chatham she got out.
I thought of Ethelberga whom the Kentish people loved and called `the darling`, nursing her secret sorrow and her broken heart which none would ever ment, yet giving to the world a cheerful and a holy life. Human courage goes often well disguised.