Earlier week we kept the feasts of St Alphege and St Anselm and today we celebrate the feast of two more Archbishops of Canterbury, St Mellitus and St Justus.
They were both part of the second wave of missionaries sent by Pope Gregory after St Augustine. Mellitus was consecrated as Bishop of London in 604. He was the recipient of a famous letter from Pope Gregory the First, known as “Epistola ad Mellitum,” preserved in a later work by the medieval chronicler Saint Bede, which suggested the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons be undertaken gradually, integrating pagan rituals and customs. Mellitus was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 619. During his tenure, he was alleged to have 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 and was buries at St Augustine’s Abbey.
Justus is described as a shadowy figure also from the first generation of English Christianity who was also sent by Pope Gregory to join St Augustine at Canterbury. Augustine made him first bishop of Rochester in 604. In 624 he became the fourth Archbishop of Canterbury. If Justus was a member of the second group of missionaries, then he arrived with a gift of books and “all things which were needed for worship and the ministry of the Church”. A 15th-century Canterbury chronicler, Thomas of Elmha claimed that there were a number of books brought to England by that second group still at Canterbury in his day, although he did not identify them. An investigation of extant Canterbury manuscripts shows that one possible survivor is the St Augustine Gospels, now in Cambridge, Corpus Christi College.
I was very fortunate some years ago to see the St Augustine Gospels in the library at Canterbury Cathedral when they were brought down from Cambridge. They were written in such a way to be read out loud, to be proclaimed. It was a truly beautiful book that enabled these missionaries to share the Good News in an effective way.
May St Mellitus and St Justus be with us now as we continue their task of effectively sharing the Good news with all who are hungering for the truth today.