Monday, April 24, 2017

St Mellitus (April 24)

A page divided into 12 sections, each section displaying a scene from the bible
St Augustine Gospels

In the English Congregation, today is traditionally the feast of St Mellitus, the first Bishop of London in the Saxon period and the third Archbishop of Canterbury.

St Mellitus was a member of the Gregorian mission sent to England to convert the Anglo-Saxons from their native paganism to Christianity, arriving around 601 AD with a group of clergy sent by St Gregory the Great to augment S Augustine's group.

St Mellitus was the recipient of a letter from Pope Gregory I known as the Epistola ad Mellitum, preserved by St Bede, which suggested the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons be undertaken gradually, integrating pagan rituals and customs. In 610, Mellitus returned to Italy to attend a council of bishops, and returned to England bearing papal letters to some of the missionaries.

St Mellitus was exiled from London by the pagan successors to his patron, King Sæberht of Essex, following the latter's death around 616. King Æthelberht of Kent, Mellitus' other patron, died at about the same time, forcing him to take refuge in Gaul. Mellitus returned to England the following year, after Æthelberht's successor had been converted to Christianity, but he was unable to return to London, whose inhabitants remained pagan. Mellitus was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 619. During his tenure, he miraculously saved the cathedral, and much of the town of Canterbury, from a fire. After his death in 624, Mellitus was revered as a saint.

Two books are associated with St Mellitus and may have been bought with him to England: the St Augustine Gospels (pictured above), and a copy of the Rule of St Benedict (MS Oxford Bodleian Hatton 48), though of course the latter claim is disputed by many modern historians, who assign the manuscript a later date.

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