Mellitus, Archbishop of Canterbury, 624

Saint Mellitus

A Roman abbot of noble birth, Mellitus was sent by Pope Gregory the Great to England at the head of a group of missionaries in 601, to reinforce the work of Augustine of Canterbury. After his departure Gregory sent him a famous letter which modified his previous ruling to Augustine concerning pagan places of worship. Gregory now told Mellitus to tell Augustine not to destroy the temples of the Saxons but only their idols. The pagan places of worship should be converted into churches and their feasts taken over and directed to Christian purposes.

In 604 Augustine consecrated Mellitus missionary bishop of the East Saxons, with his see at London, where Ethelbert (king of Kent and overlord of southern England) cause the first Church of St Paul to be built for the new bishop. As bishop of London, Mellitus traveled to Rome to consult with Pope Boniface the Fourth about the Church in England, taking part while there in a synod of Italian bishops concerning the monastic life and their relations with bishops. Several years into his episcopate, evangelization of the East Saxons was arrested when Sæberht, the Christian king of the East Saxons, died, and his three pagan sons succeeded him and expelled Mellitus. The occasion for this was said to be Mellitus’ refusal to give holy communion to the unbaptized princes. With this reversal in Essex came a corresponding and greater setback to missionary work in Kent on the death of king Ethelbert, Mellitus and another bishop, Justus, retired to Gaul. On the conversion of the new king, they were recalled to England by Laurence, archbishop of Canterbury. Lacking the support of a strong Christian ruler, Mellitus was unable to return to London and the East Saxons. In 619 he succeeded Laurence as archbishop of Canterbury and carried out his ministry ably despite chronic debility from gout. Mellitus died on this day in 624 and was buried near Augustine in the abbey Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Canterbury.

    Prepared from various sources.

The Collect

O God, our heavenly Father, who raised up your faithful servant Mellitus, to be a bishop and pastor in your Church and to feed your flock: Give abundantly to all pastors the gifts of your Holy Spirit, that they may minister in your household as true servants of Christ and stewards of your divine mysteries; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The image supra is of the Saint Mellitus window in the parish Church of St Mary’s Prittlewell.

Mellitus, Archbishop of Canterbury, is commemorated in the sanctoral calendar of the Church of England.

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