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Of S. Austin that brought Christendom to England.
S. Austin was a holy monk and sent in to England, to preach the faith of our Lord Jesu Christ, by S. Gregory, then being pope of Rome. The which had a great zeal and love unto England, as is rehearsed all along in his legend, how that he saw children of England in the market of Rome for to be sold, which were fair of visage, for which cause he demanded licence and obtained to go into England for to convert the people thereof to christian faith. And he being on the way the pope died and he was chosen pope, and was countermanded and came again to Rome. And after, when he was sacred into the papacy, he remembered the realm of England, and sent S. Austin, as head and chief, and other holy monks and priests with him, to the number of forty persons, unto the realm of England. And as they came toward England they came in the province of Anjou, purposing to have rested all night at a place called Pounte, say a mile from the city and river of Ligerim, but the women scorned and were so noyous to them that they drove them out of the town, and they came unto a fair broad elm, and purposed to have rested there that night, but one of the women which was more cruel than the other purposed to drive them thence, and came so nigh them that they might not rest there that night. And then S. Austin took his staff for to remove from that place, and suddenly his staff sprang out of his hand with a great violence, the space of three furlongs thence, and there sticked fast in the earth. And when S. Austin came to his staff and pulled it out of the earth, incontinent by the might of our Lord, sourded and sprang there a fair well or fountain of clear water which refreshed him well and all his fellowship. And about that well they rested all that night, and they that dwelled thereby saw all that night over that place a great light coming from heaven which covered all that place where these holy men lay. And on the morn S. Austin wrote in the earth with his staff beside the well these words following: Here had Austin, the servant of the servants of God, hospitality, whom S. Gregory the pope hath sent to convert England.
On the morn when the holy men were departed, the dwellers of the coasts thereby which saw the light in the night tofore, came thither and found there a fair well, of the which they marvelled greatly. And when they saw the scripture written in the earth then they were greatly abashed because of their unkindness, and repented them full sore of that they had mocked them the day before. And after, they edified there a fair church in the same place in the worship of S. Austin, the which the bishop of Anjou hallowed. And to the hallowing thereof came so great multitude of people that they trod the corn in the fields down all plain, like unto a floor clean swept, for there was no sparing of it. Notwithstanding, at the time of reaping, that ground so trodden bare more corn and better than any other fields beside, not trodden, did. And the high altar of that church standeth over the place where S. Austin wrote with his staff by the well, and yet unto this day may no woman come in to that church. But there was a noble woman that said that she was not guilty in offending S. Austin, and took a taper in her hand and went for to offer it in the said church; but the sentence of almighty God may not be revoked, for as soon as she entered the church her bowels and sinews began to shrink and she fell down dead in ensample of all other women; whereby we may understand that injury done against a saint displeaseth greatly almighty God.
And from thence S. Austin and his fellowship came into England and arrived in the isle of Thanet in East Kent, and king Ethelbert reigned that time in Kent, which was a noble man and a mighty. To whom S. Austin sent, showing the intent of his coming from the court of Rome, and said that he had brought to him right joyful and pleasant tidings, and said that if he would obey and do after his preaching that he should have everlasting joy in the bliss of heaven, and should reign with almighty God in his kingdom. And then king Ethelbert hearing this, commanded that they should abide and tarry in the same isle, and that all things should be ministered to them that were necessary, unto the time that he were otherwise advised. And soon after, the king came to them in the same isle, and he being in the field, S. Austin with his fellowship came and spake with him, having tofore them the sign of the cross, singing by the way the litany, beseeching God devoutly to strengthen them and help. And the king received him and his fellowship, and in the same place S. Austin preached a glorious sermon, and declared to the king the christian faith openly and the great merit and avail that should come thereof in time coming. And when he had ended his sermon the king said to him: Your promises be full fair that ye bring, but because they be new and have not been heard here before, we may not yet give consent thereto; nevertheless, because ye be come as pilgrims from far countries, we will not be grievous ne hard to you, but we will receive you meekly and minister to you such things as be necessary, neither we will forbid you, but as many as ye can convert to your faith and religion by your preaching ye shall have licence to baptize them, and to accompany them to your law. And then the king gave to them a mansion in the city of Dorobernence, which now is called Canterbury. And when they drew nigh the city they came in with a cross of silver, and with procession singing the litany, praying almighty God of succour and help that he would take away his wrath from the city and to inflame the hearts of the people to receive his doctrine. And then S. Austin and his fellowship began to preach there the word of God, and about there in the province, and such people as were well disposed anon were converted, and followed this holy man. And by the holy conversation and miracles that they did much people were converted and great fame arose in the country. And when it came to the king's ear, anon he came to the presence of S. Austin and desired him to preach again, and then the word of God so inflamed him, that incontinent, as soon as the sermon was ended, the king fell down to the feet of S. Austin and said sorrowfully: Alas! woe is me, that I have erred so long and know not of him that thou speakest of, thy promises be so delectable that I think it all too long till I be christened, wherefore, holy father, I require thee to minister to me the sacrament of baptism. And then S. Austin, seeing the great meekness and obedience of the king that he had to be christened, he took him up with weeping tears and baptized him with all his household and meiny, and enformed them diligently in the christian faith with great joy and gladness. And when all this was done S. Austin, desiring the health of the people of England, went forth on foot to York; and when he came nigh to the city there met him a blind man which said to him: O thou holy Austin, help me that am full needy. To whom S. Austin said: I have no silver, but such as I have I give thee; in the name of Jesu Christ arise and be all whole, and with that word he received his sight and believed in our Lord and was baptized. And upon Christmas day he baptized, in the river named Swale, ten thousand men without women and children, and there was a great multitude of people resorting to the said river, which was so deep that no man might pass over on foot, and yet by miracle of our Lord there was neither man, woman, ne child drowned, but they that were sick were made whole both in body and in soul. And in the same place they builded a church in the worship of God and S. Austin. And when S. Austin had preached the faith to the people and had confirmed them steadfastly therein, he returned again from York, and by the way he met a leper asking help, and when S. Austin had said these words to him: In the name of Jesu Christ be thou cleansed from all thy leprosy, anon all his filth fell away, and a fair new skin appeared on his body so that he seemed all a new man.
Also as S. Austin came in to Oxfordshire to a town that is called Compton to preach the word of God, to whom the curate said: Holy father, the lord of this lordship hath been ofttimes warned of me to pay his tithes to God, and yet he withholdeth them, and therefore I have cursed him, and I find him the more obstinate. To whom S. Austin said: Son, why payest thou not thy tithes to God and to the church? Knowest thou not that the tithes be not thine but belong to God? And then the knight said to him: I know well that I till the ground, wherefore I ought as well to have the tenth sheaf as the ninth, and when S. Austin could not turn the knight's entent, then he departed from him and went to mass. And ere he began he charged that all they that were accursed should go out of the church, and then rose a dead body and went out in to the churchyard with a white cloth on his head, and stood still there till the mass was done. And then S. Austin went to him and demanded him what be was, and he answered and said: I was sometime lord of this town, and because I would not pay my tithes to my curate he accursed me, and so I died and went to hell. And then S. Austin bade bring him to the place where his curate was buried, and then the carrion brought him thither to the grave, and because that all men should know that life and death be in the power of God, S. Austin said: I command thee in the name of God to arise, for we have need of thee, and then he arose anon, and stood before all the people. To whom S. Austin said: Thou knowest well that our Lord is merciful, and I demand thee, brother, if thou knowest this man? and he said: Yea, would God that I had never known him, for he was a withholder of his tithes, and in all his life an evil doer, thou knowest that our Lord is merciful, and as long as the pains of hell endure let us also be merciful to all christians. And then S. Austin delivered to the curate a rod, and there the knight kneeling on his knees was assoiled, and then he commanded him to go again to his grave, and there to abide till the day of doom; and he entered anon into his grave and forthwith fell to ashes and powder. And then S. Austin said to the priest: How long hast thou lain here? and he said a hundred and fifty years; and then he asked how it stood with him, and he said: Well, holy father, for I am in everlasting bliss; and then said S. Austin: Wilt thou that I pray to almighty God that thou abide here with us to confirm the hearts of men in very belief? And then he said: Nay, holy father, for I am in a place of rest; and then said S. Austin: Go in peace, and pray for me and for all holy church, and he then entered again into his grave, and anon the body was turned to earth. Of this sight the lord was sore afeard, and came all quaking to S. Austin and to his curate, and demanded forgiveness of his trespass, and promised to make amends and ever after to pay his tithes and to follow the doctrine of S. Austin.
After this S. Austin entered into Dorsetshire, and came in to a town whereas were wicked people who refused his doctrine and preaching utterly and drove him out of the town, casting on him the tails of thornbacks, or like fishes, wherefore he besought almighty God to show his judgement on them, and God sent to them a shameful token, for the children that were born after in that place had tails, as it is said, till they had repented them. It is said commonly that this fell at Strood in Kent, but blessed be God at this day is no such deformity. Item in another place there were certain people which would in no wise give faith to his preaching ne his doctrine, but scorned and mocked him, wherefore God took such vengeance that they burned with fire invisible, so that their skin was red as blood, and suffered so great pain that they were constrained to come and ask forgiveness of S. Austin, and then he prayed God for them that they might be acceptable to him and receive baptism and that he would release their pain, and then he christened them and that burning heat was quenched and they were made perfectly whole, and felt never after more thereof. On a time, as S. Austin was in his prayers, our Lord appeared to him, and comforting him with a gentle and familiar speech, said: O thou my good servant and true, be thou comforted and do manly, for I thy Lord God am with thee in all thine affection, and mine ears be open to thy prayers, and for whom thou demandest any petition thou shalt have thy desire, and the gate of everlasting life is open to thee, where thou shalt joy with me without end. And in that same place where our Lord said these words he fixed his staff into the ground, and a well of clear water sourded and sprang up in that same place, the which well is called Cerne, and it is in the country of Dorset, whereas now is builded a fair abbey, and is named Cerne after the well. And the church is builded in the same place whereas our Lord appeared to S. Austin. Also in the same country was a young man that was lame, dumb, and deaf, and by the prayers of S. Austin he was made whole, and then soon after he was dissolute and wanton, and noyed and grieved the people with jangling and talking in the church. And then God sent to him his old infirmity again, because of his misguiding, and at the last he fell to repentance, and asked God forgiveness and S. Austin. And S. Austin prayed for him and he was made whole again the second time, and after that he continued in good and virtuous living to his life's end.
And after this S. Austin, full of virtues, departed out of this world unto our Lord God, and lieth buried at Canterbury in the abbey that he founded there in the worship and rule, whereas our Lord God showeth yet daily many miracles. And the third day before the nativity of our Lady is hallowed the translation of S. Austin. In which night a citizen of Canterbury, being that time at Winchester, saw heaven open over the church of S. Austin, and a burning ladder shining full bright, and angels coming down to the same church. And then him thought that the church had burned of the great light and brightness that came down on the ladder, and marvelled greatly what this should mean, for he knew nothing of the translation of S. Austin; and when he knew the truth, that on that time the body of the glorious saint was translated, he gave laud and thankings to almighty God, and we may verily know by that evident vision that it is an holy and devout place; and as it is said that of old time, ancient holy men that used to come thither would at the entry of it do off their hosen and shoes and durst not presume to go into that holy monastery but barefoot, because so many holy saints be there shrined and buried. And God hath showed so many miracles in that holy place for his blessed saint, S. Austin, that if I should write them here it should occupy a great book. Then let us pray unto S. Austin, father and apostle of England, by whom this land was converted unto the christian faith, and by his ordinance bishops were ordained to minister the sacraments, that he be moyen unto our Lord Jesu Christ, that we may here so live according to his doctrine that after this life we may come to everlasting bliss in heaven. Amen.
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