Saint Ethelbert, King of Kent

Saint Ethelbert now seems to us to be a legendary figure lost in the mists of time, though he is certainly one of the very first Englishmen to be reckoned a saint. In fact a lot of information about him survives.

He was born in about 550 A.D. and became king of Kent as a teenager in 565. It seems that he had already married a Christian princess from Paris called Bertha, who had brought with her a chaplain. Ethelbert allowed her to practise her religion and gave her the church of Saint Martin in Canterbury, which was still standing 150 years after the Romans had left and 100 years after conquest by the early English, though it was in ruins.

It was not until Saint Augustine and his band of forty fearful monks landed at Ebbsfleet in 597 that Ethelbert felt impelled to come to grips with Christianity in a deeper way. He listened respectfully to the missionary, welcomed him and allowed him to set up his headquarters in Canterbury. Within a short time he had himself been baptized, many of his subjects following suit though he had forbidden them to be forced to become Christians.

Ethelbert spent the rest of his life before his death in 616 in aiding the missionary work of the church. He set up the archbishopric in Canterbury and two other dioceses in London and Rochester, and encouraged missions to the other English kingdoms.

His feast day is February 25th. The picture above is of the left-hand corbel at the entrance to the church porch.

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