Stories from the Past:
From Pagans to Christianity
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In the late 6th Century the
ruler of Kent was called King Know?
Ethelbert. He was married Unlike today, in
to Bertha. Although times Britain
Ethelbert was a Pagan, he was made up of
allowed his wife to have many kingdoms.
freedom of worship. At the time of
Bertha came from a reign, Kent was
Christian family in Europe. rich, with strong
She wanted the Anglo trade ties to the
Saxons to become Christians continent.
too, and move away from
Paganism. One day she
persuaded her husband to
write to the Pope in Rome,
asking him to send some
Upon receiving this letter, Pope
Gregory called upon one of his most
Did You trusted men. That man was Augustine. He
Know? not only preached how to live a life in
The Pope is the
God’s eyes, but was also very persuasive
most powerful in converting people to Christianity.
man in the On this day,
Christian world. sometime in 597AD,
Today he lives
in the Vatican in
Rome. showed Augustine
“Augustine. I have
a very special role
for you,” he said as
he unwrapped a
scroll showing a map
“The Roman Empire used to
control Britain, but now it is free of
Augustine nodded his head. He
was aware of a lot of Roman history.
“The Anglo Saxons are Pagans.
They think the world is controlled
by superhuman people.” Pope
Gregory lowered his voice.
“Augustine, I want you to travel to
Britain. I want you to spread the
word of Christianity across southern Britain. Make the
people believe in peace and everlasting life. Change their
thinking so they no longer believe that dying in battle is
Augustine nodded again. “I will try my best,” he said.
Augustine wasn’t alone. He
crossed Europe with his friend,
Laurence, and forty other monks
until he reached northern France.
With the help of some local boat
owners, he crossed the Channel
and soon arrived on the coast of
Kent, in South Eastern Britain.
Augustine thanked God for
making his journey safe.
King Ethelbert greeted the missionaries. “I hope you
had a good journey,” he said as he made them feel
Over dinner, Augustine asked the King if he could have a
small town to preach in. “I want to try to spread the word
of God. I want to see how your people react.”
Knowing it would please his wife, Ethelbert agreed.
He thought preaching would be
harmless. “I will take you to a small town Did You
inland,” said Ethelbert. “It is called Know?
Canterbury. You can settle and preach Today
Canterbury is one
there.” of many British
Augustine and Laurence had a lot of cathedral cities.
success preaching there. So much so, that Along with York,
it is the most
Augustine called himself the first important
Archbishop of religious city in
a monastery, and
that Christmas he
After success at Canterbury,
Augustine continued his mission.
He visited other Anglo-Saxon
towns and kingdoms. He visited
London, and met with King
Saebert of Essex. Augustine
tried to persuade Saebert to
follow Christianity but, unlike
Ethelbert, he wasn’t as easily
“Are you asking my people to give up their Pagan
beliefs?” asked Saebert. “We have gods that we believe
in, and festivals we celebrate.”
“Follow the life of one true God, and all your lives will be
enhanced,” explained Augustine. “The paradise of heaven
awaits the true Christians of this world.”
Saebert thought for a moment. “But
Did You what about our pagan temples?”
Know? “Not a problem,” replied Augustine. “You
could not be built
can convert them to Christian temples.”
straight away. Saebert wasn’t sure
Instead they built
what to do. He spoke to
bright stone crosses
where the Pagan his advisors to find out
temples had stood. what his people thought.
Over time, wooden
To his surprise, many of
churches were built
next to the cross. his people had already
heard of Christianity,
and appreciated the
values of the religion.
After a few days, he
met Augustine once
“My people have
seems you are a
strongly, but not
Augustine looked puzzled. “Are you turning your back on
God?” he asked.
“Not entirely. You can send some of your bishops to
preach here. You can convert one of the temples, but I
want paganism to stay as well. I am sure the two religions
can live side by side. Let the people choose their faith.”
Saebert was right. Over the next few Did You
years, both Paganism and Christian beliefs Know?
existed side by side, not just in his This beautifully
kingdom, but in many others across Britain. carved Anglo-
Augustine didn’t give up. He continued Saxon box is made
out of whalebone.
his journey with his men. The carvings show
He managed to persuade that Christian and
a lot of people to become existed side by
Christians, but not all. side.
Augustine realised that
persuading everyone to
change faith would take
far longer than his
lifetime. He reported
back to Pope Gregory.
Pope Gregory accepted what
Augustine said, and thanked him for
his work. He wanted Augustine to
return to Canterbury, and continue
his work as the first Archbishop.
Over time, Pope Gregory and
Augustine passed away. But their
work was not forgotten. The new
Archbishop of Canterbury was
Laurence, and he continued to
persuade parts of Britain to embrace Christianity.
Over hundreds of years, Britain did fully convert to
Christianity. Pagan temples became churches, and Pagan
traditions became Christian festivals.
Rome recognised the early work Augustine had done, and
made him a saint. History now shows St. Augustine as the first
Christian missionary in Britain.