SAINTS

FEB. 25: ST. ETHELBERT

(552-616)

Ethelbert succeeded his father, in 560, as King of Kent (an area east of London on the English Channel) and made an unsuccessful attempt to win from Ceawlin of Wessex the overlordship of Britain.

He married Bertha, daughter of Charibert, King of the Franks, thus increasing his political cachet. He gave his Christian wife the old Roman church of St. Martin in his capital of Cantwaraburh (Canterbury) and affording her every opportunity for the exercise of her religion, although he himself had been reared, and remained, a worshipper of Odin. The king’s hospitality was offered to St. Augustine in 597, when he arrived in Kent.

The death of the Wessex king left Ethelbert, at least virtually, supreme in southern Britain, and his baptism, which took place following the landing of Augustine, had such an effect in deciding the minds of his wavering countrymen that as many as 10,000 are said to have followed his example within a few months.

Ethelbert became the watchful father of the infant Anglo-Saxon Church. He founded the church, which in after-ages was to be the primatial cathedral of all England, in addition to other churches at Rochester and Canterbury. But although he permitted, and even helped, Augustine to convert a heathen temple into the church of St. Pancras (Canterbury), he never compelled his heathen subjects to accept baptism.

Ethelbert issued the first written laws to the people of England. When St. Mellitus had converted Sæbert, King of the East Saxons, whose capital was London, and it was proposed to make that see the metropolitan, Ethelbert, supported by Augustine, successfully resisted the attempt and thus fixed for more than nine centuries the individual character of the English church.

Adapted by A. J. Valentini from: Macpherson, E. (1909). St. Ethelbert. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved Feb. 17, 2021 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05553b.htm