Today is the 1400th anniversary of the death of S Ethelbert, Confessor, first Christian King of Kent. The Holy King was baptised, together with many of his people, by S Augustine, sent by Pope S Gregory the Great.
It is not often realised, either by Anglicans or by Catholics, what a remarkable phenomenon it was, that little mission which S Ethelbert received and established in Canterbury in 597. It happened a couple of centuries before the Carolingian Renaissance, before an imperious Frankish dynast embarked upon his project of replacing 'Gallican' liturgy with books copied directly from exemplars of the City. S Augustine's 'Church Plant' in Kent resulted in a little island of Romanitas being set up in the furthest North; and was, in political terms, magnificently timely.
King Ethelbert of Kent was clearly aware that Christianity was the cult of the Big World; he so valued his links with that world that he had accepted a Christian Frankish princess as his queen, with a Frankish bishop as her chaplain. Yet, to adopt her religion ... his Father-in-law's religion ... would have made him appear an appendage of her apron-strings, if not a vassal of her father. But the offer of a direct relationship with the Papa Romanus; to have a dialect of Christianity more august than theirs parachuted in; enabled him to trump the dignities of his in-laws. To be addressed as Rex Anglorum and as gloriosissimus, praecellentissimus by a Pope who compared him to Constantinus piissimus imperator ... to be instructed that the dedications and the liturgical dispositions and the choral arrangements of the churches being constructed in Canterbury precisely paralleled those of the great City itself, making Canterbury a new, Northern Rome, so miraculously far beyond the Alps ...
If there was one single over-riding characteristic of Anglo-Saxon Christianity, it was its Romanitas. Professor Jesse Billett of Toronto has recently devoted much erudition to this subject in his The Divine Office in Anglo-Saxon England 597-c.1000. His concern is to examine the surviving evidence for how the Divine Office, the round of daily prayer, was performed in the monasteria, 'minsters', of Anglo-Saxon England; and to demonstrate that it is inaccurate and anachronistic to speak of this as 'Benedictine'. Although there is plenty of evidence for the respectful study of the Benedictine Regula in the English Church, an assumption that this must have included a careful replication of S Benedict's directions with regard to worship contradicts the hints given in the evidence of the period concerned. I say 'hints' because writers naturally fail to describe in detail what they assume their readers will take for granted (throughout my blog posts you will not find any evidence that I use a knife and a fork while eating ... because we all do that ... and the remarkable thing would be if I did not do so ... and in that case I would explain to you my aberrant behaviour). Nevertheless the evidence is sufficient to fill some 500 pages and to build up a formidable case.
So how did they worship? I will repost two more posts on this subject in the course of today.