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HOW ENGLAND BECAME CHRISTIAN
WHATEVER success the Britons may have had, it did not
last very long. The English, Saxons, Jutes, and
others—afterwards all called English—came pouring over
from the countries about the mouths of the Elbe in
North Germany, and the Britons could not stand against
these daring sailors and fierce warriors. Fifty years
after the battle of Badon Hill the Britons had been
driven to the western side of the island, and all the
rest of England, and part of the South of Scotland,
belonged to the invaders.
The Romans during the latter part of their stay in
Britain had become Christians, and the Britons, who
 imitated their masters in everything, were Christian
too. But the English, Saxons, and Jutes were all
heathen, and now the greater part of Britain, which had
been Christian, was turned again to heathenism. I must
now tell you how these brave heathen were converted.
In the year of our Lord 572 or thereabouts, Ethelbert,
King of Kent, who was the most powerful prince in the
southern parts of England, married a certain Bertha,
daughter of the King of Paris. Ethelbert was a heathen,
as all the English folk were in those days, but he
promised that his wife, being a Christian, should be
allowed to worship God in her own way. More than this,
he permitted a certain bishop from France to come with
her, and he gave them a church in Canterbury, which was
the chief town of his dominions. This church had been
built by the Romans, before they left the island.
About eight years after these things happened, a
certain Roman named Gregory had his heart wonderfully
turned to the work of preaching the gospel in this
country. He was a man of noble birth and of great
wealth, and he had founded a monastery in Rome, named
after St. Andrew, of which monastery he was himself the
abbot or chief. One day, as he walked through the
marketplace of the city, he saw among the various kinds
of merchandise three boys, who
 were to be sold for slaves. They were of a fair
complexion, with long flaxen hair, things to be noted
in a country where the folk are mostly dark. Struck
with pity for their hard lot, he asked of the
slave-merchant from what land they came.
SLAVE-MERCHANT. "From Britain, where all
the people have this same fair complexion."
GREGORY. "Are the people of this strange
country Christians or Pagans?"
SLAVE-M. "They are Pagans."
GREGORY. (heaving a deep sigh). "Sad is
it to think that creatures so full of light should be
slaves of the Prince of Darkness! But say, of what
nation are they?"
SLAVE-M. "They are Angli.
GREGORY. "Angli! Rightly
are they called Ang(e)li, for their faces are as the
faces of angels, and they should with the angels be
fellow-heirs of the kingdom of heaven. But from what
province of this island of Britain do they come?"
SLAVE-M. " From Deira."
GREGORY. "It is well again. They are
delivered from the ire of God (de ira = from the ire or
anger) and called to His mercy. And who is the King of
 SLAVE-M. "Ella is his name."
GREGORY. "Then Alleluia shall be chanted
in his kingdom."
The abbot went straight from the market-place to the
Bishop of Rome, and begged permission to go and preach
the gospel to the inhabitants of this far-away island.
The Bishop granted the request, and Gregory set out. He
knew, it would seem, that his going would not be liked
by his fellow-citizens. Accordingly, he made his
departure as secret as possible. But what he had
expected happened. As soon as the people missed him,
they burst in upon the Bishop, as he was worshipping in
the church of St. Peter, and demanded with loud cries
that their beloved Gregory should be given back to
them. The Bishop had to yield; messengers were sent
after Gregory, and overtaking him at the end of his
third day's journey compelled him to return.
The good abbot never forgot his purpose of bringing his
dear "Angels" to the knowledge of Christ; but he had to
wait a long time before he could carry it out. Ten
years after he saw the three fair-haired boys in the
market-place, he was himself made Bishop of Rome. That
seemed to make the thing more hopeless than ever, for
the times were full of trouble, and Gregory had work
without end to do at home. Then it seems to have
occurred to him,
 that what he could not do himself he might do by means
of another. Accordingly he chose out forty men from
among the monks of his old monastery, and putting the
whose name was Augustine, at their head, sent them to
preach in Britain.
Augustine and his company set out on their journey, but
when they got as far as the South of France their
hearts failed them. Every one gave them terrible
accounts of the Pagans that had come over and conquered
the island of Britain. Nowhere, it was said, was there
a people so savage and barbarous. The missionaries
stopped on their way, and sent their leader Augustine
back to Rome, with a petition to Gregory that he would
release them from their task.
Gregory refused to listen. He was one of the men who do
not spare themselves any trouble or danger, and expect
others to be like themselves. He sent Augustine back
with a letter full of exhortation. "Do not shrink," he
said, "from your duty. Go on, with God to help you. The
harder the work, the greater the reward." At the same
time he gave them letters to the bishops of France, who
were told to give them all the help they could. The
company started again, and made their way to the
sea-coast. There they provided themselves with
 interpreters who knew the English tongue, and crossing
the Channel, landed at Ebbe's Fleet in the Isle of
MONKS BEARING A CROSS.
As soon as they were on shore they sent a messenger to
King Ethelbert. They had come, they told him, with good
news, news of glory in heaven, and of a kingdom that
should have no end in the presence of God.
The King sent back a friendly answer. "I shall be glad
to see and talk with you. But do not come for the
present beyond the river Stour."
Though he was thus disposed to be friendly with the
new-comers, he was greatly afraid of them. He even made
a point of not meeting them in any house, but in the
open air. Under a roof they might put a magical spell
upon him. In the open air, he thought, he would be more
safe. Accordingly he arranged
 that the first meeting should take place under an oak,
a tree which his own people held to be sacred.
Augustine and his companions came up from the shore in
solemn procession. One attendant carried in front a
silver cross; another followed behind holding up a
picture, done in colours and gold, of the Crucified
Christ. As the missionaries moved along, they chanted
a solemn prayer for themselves and for the people to
whom they came to preach.
SAXON KING IN COUNCIL.
Augustine then declared the message which he had to
deliver. He could himself speak
 no language but Latin, while the King and his people
knew only their own English tongue. But the
interpreters whom the missionaries had brought with
them translated the preacher's words as he went on.
Augustine explained the picture, telling his hearers
how the Son of the One God in heaven had come down to
earth, had died for the sins of a guilty world, and had
thus opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
When the preacher had finished, the King made a very
friendly answer. "You promise good things," he said,
"but there is much in what you say that I do not
understand, nor can I engage to give up at once the
customs of my fathers. Nevertheless, you are welcome;
you are free to worship God in your own way; if any of
my subjects wish to follow you, I will not hinder
After this the missionaries formed another procession,
and again chanting solemn prayers, marched to the royal
town of Canterbury, where they took up their abode in
dwellings which the King gave over to their use. The
more the King heard of their teaching and saw of their
holy life, the more moved he was. In the end, before a
year had passed from their coming, he declared his
conversion. On Whitsunday, the second day of June, in
the year 597, he was baptized. His people soon followed
his example. 'On Christmas
 Day in the same year ten thousand converts were
baptized in the Swale, at the northern end, where it
joins the Medway.