The Gregorian mission, sometimes known as the Augustinian mission,was the mission sent by PopeGregory the Great to the Anglo-Saxons in 596 AD. Headed by Augustine of Canterbury, its goal was to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity. By the death of the last missionary in 653, they had established Christianity in southern Britain. Along with Irish and Frankish missionaries, they converted Britain and influenced the Hiberno-Scottish missions to the Continent.
By the time the Roman Empire recalled its legions from the province of Britannia in 410, parts of the island had already been settled by pagan Germanic tribes who, later in the century, appear to have taken control of Kent and other coastal regions. In the late 6th century Pope Gregory sent a group of missionaries to Kent, to convertÆthelberht, King of Kent, whose wife, Bertha of Kent, was a Frankish princess and practising Christian. Augustine was the prior of Gregory’s own monastery in Rome and Gregory prepared the way for the mission by soliciting aid from the Frankish rulers along Augustine’s route.
In 597 the forty missionaries arrived in Kent and were permitted by Æthelberht to preach freely in his capital ofCanterbury. Soon the missionaries wrote to Gregory telling him of their success and that conversions were taking place. The exact date of Æthelberht’s conversion is unknown but it occurred before 601. A second group of monks and clergy was dispatched in 601 bearing books and other items for the new foundation. Gregory intended Augustine to be the metropolitan archbishop of the southern part of the British Isles, and gave him authority over the British clergy but in a series of meetings with Augustine the local bishops refused to acknowledge this.
Before Æthelberht’s death in 616 a number of other bishoprics had been established but after that date, a pagan backlash set in and the see, or bishopric, of London was abandoned. Æthelberht’s daughter, Æthelburg, marriedEdwin, the king of the Northumbrians, and by 627 Paulinus, the bishop who accompanied her north, had converted Edwin and a number of other Northumbrians. When Edwin died, in about 633, his widow and Paulinus were forced to flee to Kent. Although the missionaries could not remain in all of the places they had evangelised, by the time the last of them died in 653, they had established Christianity in Kent and the surrounding countryside and contributed a Roman tradition to the practice of Christianity in Britain.