Addenda to volume 12: Thoughts on the abbey of St Augustine

Pages 666-672

The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 12. Originally published by W Bristow, Canterbury, 1801.

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Dedicated, with much respect, to the GOVERNORS of the KENT AND CANTERBURY HOSPITAL, standing within its precinct.

WITHIN these walls, where ruin bears the sway, (fn. 1)
And scatters relics with a wasteful hand:
Where monks, in early times, were wont to pray,
And kings, in later days, have rul'd the land:

Where, first, AUGUSTINE to the Pagan spake,
Bade him be convert to the Christian cause,
Reform his temples and his Gods forsake,
And brought the wayward heathen to a pause:

By soft incitements won his listless ear,
Religion's comforts open'd to his view;
Gain'd on his thoughts, and bent his mind to fear
Its holy precepts, then reveal'd to few. (fn. 2)

Beneath the shadow of this losty tow'r,
TO ETHELBERT inscrib'd, where many a dove, (fn. 3)
On seat o'erhung with ivy as a bow'r,
Alost, sits cooing to the calls of love:

Here will I bring my mind to solemn test:
Seek Wisdom's source and draw from thence the truth;
Pure fountain, rising from this feat of rest,
That holds, alike, the aged and the youth;

Indulge in fancy's walk, my wonted stray,
Now as the rays of light are on the wane;
Lure back the sounds that cheer'd the pilgrim's way,
Ere to this abbey, or the saint he came,

Of peal that rang on festive days so well,
With rapt' rous thrills that shook the hallow'd dome,
Or chime that to the service warn'd, or knell,
That call'd the weary trav'ller to his home;

Of chant that echo'd in the vaulted choir,
The voice of melody in sacred song;
Of organs, serpents, or the boasted lyre,
Sweet soother of the mind, if tuneful strung!

Invoke the founder of this great domain,
Or lordly abbot who a mitre rear'd,
Both high vicegerents in the papal train,
The BECKETS of their day and equal fear'd;

Or monk, who here at vespers oft was seen,
And kept the sacred vestments of the church, (fn. 4)
Its alms dispos'd, and trod the neighb'ring green,
Alas!—they all are fled—beyond my search.

Nor shall those walls that totter on the swing,
Sad emblems now of what before were one,
The once proud palace of a prouder king, (fn. 5)
Hold up each other, but like him be gone!

So large the havoc, the decay so wide,
Scarce vestiges are found to shew its fame,
All is a ruin there! what was of pride,
Is now laid low, and takes a fitter name.

Nor long shall wanton spoil her empire hold,
O'er what remains of grandeur to destroy;
Few are her objects now, and easy told,
So few, there's little left her to annoy.

Saving yon portal by the northern way,
Whose beauty keeps aloof the daring hand,
Protects her fabric and secures her stay,
Proud monument of art, in all that's grand!

Oft have I seen an artist peering there
To catch the semblance of her favour'd mien,
Or view her graces, while as yet she's here,
A fight so comely, and so rarely seen.

Save too the western gate of plainer hue,
With lofty tow'rs that o'er the city shine,
Procession's way; and whence, with gawdy shew,
Princes went prostrate to the martyr's shrine.

Wou'd, that these fam'd remains of gothic taste,
Structures that charm us, yet excite our dread,
Might stand immoveable; secure from waste,
As sacred land-marks, set to guard the dead!

To free from idle sport, and long to ward
Their moulder'd ashes, whereso'er they light;
To stay the rugged spade that turns the sward,
The hold of all that's mortal from the sight!

This holy task fulfil'd, one yet remains,
On which my heart is eager to indite,
The living, in this precinct, have their claims;
The calls of woe that ever will invite!

Lo! yonder phoenix, from a ruin sprung,
A blest INFIRMARY for helpless man:
Diseas'd, afflicted, or with sickness wrung,
He there finds comfort, if in life he can.

But for this house a stranger late had past
The vale he sought, as then his only boon;
A victim to despair, that held him fast,
Had pin'd, nor linger'd long, but dropt at noon.

There for his ills he met, as oft is heard,
With pity and relief, his wonted ode;
Recov'ring now, he braves the woes he fear'd,
And lives the tenant of this blest abode.

Since there the wretched are from ruin sav'd,
And owe this blessing to a friend of mine,
'Twere just, if said to whom—but that is wav'd,
His same is permanent, and stands with time. (fn. 6)

The muse would now retire—but much is due,
Of grateful tribute to the public cares!
In homely dress, and not in metre true,
She fears to speak, and speaks too long she fears.

Yet might she breathe again, as sorrow's friend,
Express her feelings, as she so has aim'd,
Fain wou'd the bless the labours that attend,
Those who protect, and those who cure the maim'd.

Theirs is the part our SAVIOUR meekly took,
The sick, the halt, the blind, to snatch from death,
Nor seek they recompence, but forward look
TO HIM, the Christian's monitor on earth.

Long may the fost'ring hand of public zeal,
Inclin'd to mercy, ward the lifted rod;
Pour forth its bounties there, the wounded heal,
And raise a grateful offering to GOD!


Almonry of St. Augustine's,
Aug.8, 1800.


  • 1. In the eastern suburb of the city of Canterbury, exempt from its jurisdiction, is the precinct of the once magnificent, although now ruinated, abbey of St. Augustine; antiently dedicated to St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. Augustine. It is inclosed with a stone wall, and contains, within its limits, about sixteen acres of ground.
  • 2. It is admitted by historians, that Christianity had been received in Britain, long before Augustine came hither; but it was at a time when the Britons and the Romans had possession of the island. Augustine arrived here in the year of the christian æra 597, at which period the Saxons were masters of the greatest part of the kingdom: of that part, especially, which has sincé enjoyed the name of England; and were all of them pagans and worshippers of idols: and it does not appear that the few Christians, who were living in Britain at that time, were disposed to offer any thing towards acquainting the Saxons with the Christian faith. Bertha, who was a Christian, born of Christian parents, was very contributory, with Augustine, to the conversion of her husband king Ethelbert, who then reigned in the kingdom of kent; and herself converted many in the southern parts of England. But as Augustine was the first Christian preacher, and may justly be considered as the founder of this monastery, by having instructed the king in the establishment of the Christian religion, and persuaded him to promote it by founding this religious institution, in the first city in his kingdom, and now the city of the metropolitan of all England, every circumstance that respects the mission on which he came, the manner in which he executed that mission, and which concerns this foun dation, called the first or chief mother of monasteries in England, can but be highly interesting to every one, and especially so to those persons who are now living near to it. The learned Mrs. Elstob, formerly of the precincts of Christ-church, Canterbury, whose uncle was then one of the prebendaries of that church, having published, early in the last century, among other curious and valuable tracts on this subject, not now easy to be obtained, a translation of the English Saxon Homily, on the birth-day of St. Gregory, antiently used in the English Saxon church, Mr. Bunce acknowledges great obligation to a very ingenious lady, his friend, and a lineal descendant from that respectable family, for having kindly permitted him to enrich these notes with the following extract from that work: "It happened, as it often did, that some English merchants brought their merchandizes to Rome; and Gregory, who was not yet called to the papal chair, passing along the street to the Englishmen, taking a view of their goods, he then beheld among their merchandizes, slaves set out to sale.—They were white complexioned, and men of fair countenance, having noble heads of hair. And Gregory, when he saw the beauty of the young men, inquired from what country they were brought; and the men said from England; and that all the men in that nation were as beautiful. Then Gre gory asked them, whether the men in that land were christians or heathens, and the men said unto him, they were heathens. Gregory, setching a long sigh, said alas balas! that men of so fair a complexion should be subject to the prince of darkness. After that Gregory enquired how they called the nation from whence they came. To which he was answered, that they were called Angle (that is English). Then said he, rightly they are called Angle, because they have the beauty of angels, and therefore it is very fit they should be the companions of angels in Heaven. Yet still Gregory en quired, what the shire was named from which the young men were brought. It was told him, that the men of that shire were called Deiri; Gregory an swered, well they are called Deiri, because they are delivered from wrath and called to the mercy of Christ. Yet again he enquired, what was the name of the king of their province; he was answered, that the king's name was Ella. Therefore, Gregory, playing upon the words, in allusion to the name, said it is fit that Hal elujah be sung in that land in praise of the Al mighty Creator. Being afterwards elected pope, and calling to mind what he formerly had thought of concerning the English nation, he then finished that most beloved work, by sending messengers, approved servants of God, to this island; who were thus named Augustinus, Mellitus, Laurentius, Petrus, Johannes, Justus. Those doctors the pope sent, with many other monks, to the English people; persuading them to the voyage in these words. 'Be ye not afraid, through the satigue of so long a journey, or through what wicked men may say concerning it: but, with all stedfastness and zeal, and earnest affection, by the grace of God, perfect the work ye have begun: and be ye assured, that the recompence of your eternal reward is so much greater, by how much the greater difficulties you have under gone, in fulfilling the will of God. Be obedient, with all humility in all things, to Augustine, whom we have set over you to be your abbot. It will be for your souls health, so far as ye fulfil his admonitions. Almighty God, through his grace, protect you, and grant that I may behold the fruit of your labour in the eternal reward; and that I may be found, together with you, in the joy of your reward. Because, although I cannot labour with you, yet I have a good will to share with you in your labour. Au gustine then, with his companions, who were reckoned to be about forty that sojourned with him by Gregorie's command, proceeded on their journey until they arrived prosperously in this island. In those days reigned Æthelbyriht in the city of Canterbury; whose kingdom was stretched from the great river Humber to the South Sea. Augustine had taken interpreters in the kingdom of the Franks, as Gregory had ordered him: and he, by the mouths of the interpreters, preached God's word to the king and the people, viz. How one merciful Saviour, by his own sufferings, redeemed this guilty world, and, to all that believed, had opened an entrance into the kingdom of heaven. Then king Æthelbyriht answered Augustine and said, that those were fair words and promises which he gave him; but that he could not, so suddenly, leave the antient customs which he and the English people had held. He said he might freely preach the heavenly doctrine to his people; and that he would allow maintenance to him and his companions; and gave him a dwelling in the city of Canterbury, which was the head city in all his kingdom. Then began Augustine, with his monks, to imitate the life of the apostles, with frequent prayers, watch ings and fastings, serving God, and preaching the word of life, with all di ligence. Very many believed and were baptized, in the name of God, ad miring the simplicity of their innocent course of life, and the sweetness of their heavenly doctrine. Afterwards, king Æthelbyriht was much pleased with the purity of their lives and their delightful promises, which were indeed confirmed by many miracles, and he, believing, was baptized. And he reverenced the christians, and looked upon them as men of hea venly polity. Nevertheless, he would not force any one to receive chris tianity, because he found upon inquiry from the ministers of his salvation, that the service of Christ ought not to be forced but voluntary. Then be gan very many, daily, to hearken to the divine preaching and leave their heathenism, and to join themselves to Christ's church believing in him." Ethelbert, by the persuasion of Augustine, began to build this abbey A. D. 598; and it being in part finished in 605, and dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul, the King, with Bertha his Queen, and their son Eadbald, Augustine and the nobles of the realm, celebrated the solemnity of Christmas, at Canterbury, in that year: and, with the general consent of all present, the King, having already enriched the abbey with ample possessions of lands and other gifts, he then delivered up the monastery to God and to certain Benedictine Monks, of which order Augustine was one, who should serve perpetually in it, under Peter, whom the King had appointed to be their first Abbot. The foundation being laid, the abbey soon advanced to stateliness, in the inlargement of its buildings, and the augmentation of its endowments.—King Eadbald, son of Ethelbert, built a fair church in this monastery, which was dedicated (A. D. 613) and called St. Marie's. After Eadbald, Canute, the great monarch of this realm, and several Abbots were the persons who increased the buildings and endowments, some adding churches and chapels, some dortors and resectories, and other kind of edifices, and others manors and large estates. In 978 this abbey was dedicated anew, in honor of St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. Augustine.
  • 3. Mr. Somner, in his history of Canterbury, supposes Ethelbert's tower to have been built about the year 1047; and, quoting the words of Speed, in the close of his discourse touching this abbey, thus speaks of it "Only " Ethelbert's tower, faith he, in memory and honour of the man, as yet hath " escaped the verdict and sentence of destruction; whose beauty, though " much defaced and over-run, will witness, to succeeding ages, the magnifi"cence of the whole, when all stood compleat in their glory together."
  • 4. Thomas de Elmham, in his account of the vestments which St. Gregory gave to St. Augustine, writes thus, "For the sacred vestments and the sacer" dotal habits are to this time preserved in the vestry, viz. one cope, all of "silk of a sapphirc or azure colour, adorned with a gold border and with " jewels on the upper part before. Two copes, all silk, of a purple colour, "adorned with gold borders, in other things alike. Three copes of silk, of "a purple colour, but flowered orembroidered with gold, and wove throughout. " One little cloak of purple silk adorned with gold and jewels on the upper " part behind."— Elstob's transh.
  • 5. On the suppression of this monastery, which took place 29 Hen. VIII. A. D. 1538, the King retained the scite and precincts of it, with great part of the adjoining demains, in his own hands; those buildings belonging to the Abbey, which on a survey had been judg d useless, were taken down, and the remainder fitted up, as a palace, for the King's use. That part of the domains, adjoining to the precincts, retained likewise, was formed into a park for deer and beasts of chase, and called the King's new park. The mill, called Abbot's Mill, from its belonging to this Abbey, with all the houses and dry rents appertaining to the monastery, within the city of Canterbury, the King then sold to the Corporation of that city; reserving to the Crown an annual payment of 2l. 15s. 2½d. which has beon since granted, and is now paid, to the Dean and Chapter of Rochester. The King was at Canterbury many times before and once after the dissolution of this abbey; but the city accounts don't shew that his Majesty ever took up his abode at St. Augustine's palace. In 1573 Queen Elizabeth kept her Court in this Monastery. In 1625, King Charles the First consummated his marriage there with the Princess Henrietta of France; and, at the restoration, King Charles the Second lodged at this Palace, on his passage through the city. The reader will see more of these circumstances in Mr. Bunce's minute of those years, and of the Monastery in general under the proper titles.
  • 6. Since the first publication of these lines, Mr. Bunce has been advised to alter his intention of concealing thi gentleman's name. The poor are much indebted for the establishment of t' is most salutary institution, in the neighbourhood of our city, to the very humane and laudable execitions of WILLIAM CARTER, esq. M. D. who, at an early period of his life, aware of the great utility of a general Infirmary in this part of the county, was at much pains to obtain such information as was requisite, for the accomplishement of so desirable an object. Having, at length, finished his inquiry, and. with no inconsiderable trouble, made all the necessary arrangements, so essential to the forwarding a work of this magnitude; at his request, a public meeting of the Gentry and Clergy of the county was convened by advertisement, and most numerously attended, at the King's Head tavern, in Canterbury, on the 13th of September, 1790, (the present Lord Sondes in the chair); when, having proposed to the deliberation of the very respectable company then assembled, the propriety of erecting and maintaining a public Hospital, or Infirmary, by voluntary subscription, for the benefit of this part of the county, Dr. Carter had the high gratification to find his plan approved and countenanced by the gentlemen of that meeting; who, instantly, subscribed largely to the undertaking; and by whose benevolence then, and unvaried attentions since, in co-operation with its many other dignified and liberal benefactors, aided by the extreme vigilance of the Governors of the Charity, and the benevolent exetions of the Physicians and Gentlemen of the Faculty in Canterbury, who here cheerfully and gratuitously attend day by day, so much to their own honour, and the good of those they attend, (all equally emulous with himself, in forwarding so noble a work of true christian charity) this spacious and commodious edifice, this asylum for human misery, has been erected and is now most generously supported.—MAY IT LONG FLOURISH; AND MAY ITS BENEFITS BE RECEIVED, WITH GRATITUDE, BY THOSE WHOM IT CHERISHES!