St Aidan and St Gregory the Great

Monday 31st August – St Aidan (+651) and the Saints of Lindisfarne

Aidan, a native of Ireland, was a monk on Iona. When the Christian King Oswald returned from exile on Iona to his kingdom of Northumbria, he invited the monks of Iona to provide missionaries to instruct his people in Christianity. After initial difficulties, Aidan was consecrated bishop and sent with a group of Irish monks to begin this task. He established a monastery on the island of Lindisfarne which became the centre of a major missionary effort in the North of England. The monastery also became a valuable centre of learning and an important training ground for the education of English boys who would continue the work of evangelisation. From Lindisfarne Aidan journeyed throughout Northumberland, usually on foot, and working closely with King Oswald who found him to be a wise adviser and a good personal friend. After Oswald’s death in 642, Aidan continued this work under his successor, Oswin, but when Oswin himself was killed nine years later, Aidan did not long survive him and died two weeks later in 651. According to St Bede in his History of the English Church and People, St Aidan was a man of great gentleness and moderation, outstanding for his energetic missionary work. His influence on the North of England was enormous, and his wise promotion of Christian education among the native English laid the solid foundation for the spread of the Gospel in the centuries which followed his death.

Thursday 3rd September – St Gregory the Great (540-604)

Gregory was born in Rome and followed the career of public service that was usual for the son of an aristocratic family, finally becoming Prefect of the City of Rome, a post he held for some years. He founded a monastery in Rome and some others in Sicily, then became a monk himself. He was ordained deacon and sent as an envoy to Constantinople, on a mission that lasted five years. He was elected Pope on 3rd September 590, the first monk to be elected to this office. He reformed the administration of the Church’s estates and devoted the resulting surplus to the assistance of the poor and the ransoming of prisoners. He negotiated treaties with the Lombard tribes who were ravaging northern Italy, and by cultivating good relations with these and other barbarians he was able to keep the Church’s position secure in areas where Roman rule had broken down. He was a liturgical reformer, and a great musician – Gregorian Chant gets its nomenclature from his encouragement of music in the liturgy. His works for the propagation of the faith include the sending of St Augustine and his monks as missionaries to England in 596, providing them with continuing advice and support and (in 601) sending reinforcements. He wrote extensively on pastoral care (his Pastoral Rule was later translated into Anglo Saxon by King Alfred the Great as a guide for his bishops), spirituality, and morals, and designated himself ‘servant of the servants of God’, a title still used by the pope. He died on 12th March 604, but as this date always falls within Lent, his feast is celebrated on the date of his election as Bishop of Rome. He is accorded the title ‘Apostle of England’ for having sent St Augustine of Canterbury to these shores.

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