Évêque de Cantorbéry (✝ 624)
Moine de Rome que le pape saint Grégoire le Grand envoya en Angleterre. Il fut sans doute le premier évêque de Londres et fonda le monastère de Westminster. Dans cette époque encore troublée par la lutte entre le christianisme naissant chez les Anglo-saxons et le paganisme, saint Mellit dut se réfugier durant quelque temps en France. Il revint en Angleterre et fut alors évêque de Cantorbery.
À Cantorbéry en Angleterre, l’an 624, saint Mellit, évêque. Abbé à Rome, il fut envoyé en Angleterre par le pape saint Grégoire le Grand avec d’autres moines pour renforcer l’action de saint Augustin, qui l’ordonna évêque des Saxons de l’est avec son siège à Londres, et après bien des tribulations, il accéda au siège de Cantorbéry.
Saint Mellit (ou Mellitus ou Mélec)
Abbé à Rome puis évêque de Cantorbéry
Mellit était abbé à Rome. En 601, le pape Grégoire le Grand l'envoya, avec d'autres moines, renforcer la mission auprès des Angles du premier archevêque de Cantorbéry, Augustin.
Une erreur de navigation le fit arriver chez les Saxons. Augustin l'ordonna évêque des Saxons de l'Est avec son siège à Londres.
En 616, Mellitus fut chassé de Londres par les fils païens de Sæberth et se réfugia en Gaule. Le successeur d'Augustin, Laurent, le rappela en Angleterre. En 619, Mellit lui succéda comme troisième archevêque de Cantorbéry.
En 623, il sauva miraculeusement la ville et l'église de Cantorbéry d'un feu naissant : conduit au sein des flammes, il fit changer le vent de direction. Saint Bède le Vénérable, dans son Histoire ecclésiastique du peuple anglais, loue l'esprit sensé de Mellit.
Mellit mourut à Cantorbéry en 624. Son culte en Bretagne, apporté sous le vocable de Mélec par des Bretons revenus d'Angleterre en 937, serait à l'origine de la ville de Plumelec (qui signifie « paroisse de Mélec »).
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SOURCE : http://levangileauquotidien.org/main.php?language=FR&module=saintfeast&id=3575&fd=0
À notre fils bien-aimé l’abbé Mellitus, dans le pays des Francs, Grégoire serviteur des serviteurs de Dieu.
Après le départ de la petite troupe rassemblée par nos soins, qui voyage avec toi, nous avons été plongés dans une vive inquiétude, en l’absence de nouvelles sur le succès de votre voyage. Une fois donc que Dieu tout-puissant vous aura menés auprès de notre très révéré frère l’évêque Augustin, dites-lui ce que, après avoir longuement médité au sujet des Angles, j’ai décidé : qu’il ne faut en aucun cas détruire les temples des idoles (fana idolorum) chez le peuple en question, mais seulement les idoles qui s’y trouvent ; que l’on bénisse de l’eau et que les temples en question en soient aspergés ; enfin qu’on bâtisse des autels et qu’on y dépose des reliques.
En effet, si les temples dont nous parlons ont été bien construits, il faut impérativement qu’on les transforme (commutari) pour qu’ils passent du culte des démons à l’observance du vrai Dieu, afin que lorsque la population verra que ses temples justement ne sont pas détruits, elle quitte son erreur et reconnaissant enfin et adorant le vrai Dieu, elle accoure avec plus de confiance en ces temples auxquels elle est habituée.
De même, comme ces populations ont coutume de sacrifier de nombreux bœufs aux démons, il faut transformer (inmutari) aussi cet usage en solennité chrétienne : le jour où une église est dédiée à un saint ou bien pour l’anniversaire des martyrs, dont les reliques y sont déposées, qu’ils se fassent des huttes de branchages autour de ces anciens temples transformés en églises et qu’ils y célèbrent la fête par des banquets religieux. Que ce ne soit plus au Diable qu’ils immolent des animaux, mais que dorénavant ce soit à la gloire de Dieu qu’ils tuent les animaux qu’ils mangent et qu’ils rendent grâce de leur satiété à Celui qui donne tout, de sorte que par ces quelques joies extérieures qui leur sont conservées, ils puissent consentir plus facilement aux joies intérieures.
Il ne fait aucun doute en effet qu’il est impossible de faire brusquement table rase dans des esprits obtus, car aussi celui qui veut escalader un sommet, ne s’élève pas par bonds mais progressivement pas à pas. Ainsi, s’il est vrai que notre Seigneur se révéla au peuple d’Israël en Égypte, il leur permit toutefois de conserver pour son propre culte l’usage des sacrifices rendus jusque là au Diable, puisqu’Il ordonna qu’on immolât des animaux dans les sacrifices qu’on Lui rendait, afin qu’en changeant leurs cœurs, ils perdissent certains aspects du sacrifice mais qu’ils en gardassent d’autres (Lev 7,2-7). De la sorte même si c’étaient les mêmes animaux qu’ils avaient l’habitude de sacrifier, maintenant qu’ils les sacrifiaient au vrai Dieu et non plus à des idoles, ce n’étaient plus les mêmes sacrifices. Voilà ce qu’il faut, très cher, que tu dises à notre frère Augustin, afin qu’il juge par lui-même, lui qui est présentement en place là-bas, quelle est la meilleure façon de tout organiser. Que Dieu te garde, mon fils bien-aimé.
Donnée le quinze des calendes de juillet, en la dix-neuvième année du règne de notre souverain le très pieux Auguste Maurice Tibère, la dix-huitième année après son consulat, en la quatrième indiction.
Bède le Vénérable, Histoire ecclésiastique du peuple anglais, livre I, ch. 30. Paris, Les Belles Lettres, 1999. vol.1, pp. 65-67.
St. Mellitus, Archbishop of Canterbury, Confessor
HE was a Roman abbot, whom St. Gregory sent over hither in 601, at the head of a second colony of missioners to assist St. Austin, by whom he was ordained the first bishop of London, or of the East-Saxons; baptized Sebert the King, with a great part of his nation: and by his liberality, in 604, laid the foundation of the cathedral church of St. Paul’s, and, in 609, of the monastery of St. Peter, at Thorney, which was rebuilt by King Edgar, and again most sumptuously by St. Edward the Confessor, and is now called Westminster. This Christian and learned prince, dying about 616, left his dominions to his three sons, Sexred, Seward, and Sigebert, whom he had not been so happy as to recover from their idolatry, though they had kept their heathenism private during their father’s life. After his death they declared themselves Pagans, and gave their subjects the liberty of returning to their former idolatrous worship. Yet when they saw our holy bishop at the altar, and giving the blessed eucharist to the people, they would not be satisfied unless he would give them some of that fine white bread, as they called it, he was used to give their father. He told them their request should be granted, on condition they would be baptized as their father was; but this they would not hear of, alleging they had no need of baptism, but still insisted on receiving the consecrated bread; and on the bishop’s refusal to gratify them in their unreasonable request, they banished him their dominions. These three princes, after a reign of six years, going on an expedition against the West-Saxons, were all three slain in battle. But though the chief promoters of Paganism were taken off, their people, being inured again to idolatry, did not return to the faith before the year 628, according to the Saxon annals. St. Mellitus passed over to France, but soon returned, and upon the death of St. Laurence, in 619, was translated to the see of Canterbury, being the third archbishop of that see. Whilst sick of the gout, he, by his prayers, stopped a furious conflagration which had already laid no small part of that city in ashes, and which no hands had been able to get under. He died April the 24th, 624. See Bede, Le Neve’s Fasti, Goscelin, and Capgrave.
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume IV: April. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
Bishop of London and third Archbishop of Canterbury, d. 24 April, 624. He was the leader of the second band of missionaries whom St. Gregory sent from Rome to join St. Augustine at Canterbury in 601. Venerable Bede (Hist. Eccl., II, vii) describes him as of noble birth, and as he is styled abbot by the pope (Epp. Gregorii, xi, 54, 59), it is thought he may have been Abbot of the Monastery of St. Andrew on the Coelian Hill, to which both St. Gregory and St. Augustine belonged. Several commendatory epistles of the pope recommending Mellitus and his companions to various Gallic bishops have been preserved (Epp., xi, 54-62). With the band he sent also "all things needed for divine worship and the Church's service, viz. sacred vessels and altar cloths, vestments for priests and clerics, and also relics of the holy apostles and martyrs, with many books" (Bede, "Hist. Eccl.", I, 29).
The consecration of Mellitus as bishop by Augustine took place soon after his arrival in England, and his first missionary efforts were among the East Saxons. Their king was Sabert, nephew to Ethelbert, King of Kent, and by his support, Mellitus was able to establish his see in London, the East Saxon capital, and build there the church of St. Paul. On the death of Sabert his sons, who had refused Christianity, gave permission to their people to worship idols once more. Moreover, on seeing Mellitus celebrating Mass one day, the young princes demanded that he should give them also the white bread which he had been wont to give their father. When the saint answered them that this was impossible until they had received Christian baptism, he was banished from the kingdom. Mellitus went to Kent, where similar difficulties had ensued upon the death of Ethelbert, and thence retired to Gaul about the year 616.
After an absence of about a year, Mellitus was recalled to Kent by Laurentius, Augustine's successor in the See of Canterbury. Matters had improved in that kingdom owing to the conversion of the new king Eadbald, but Mellitus was never able to regain possession of his own See of London. In 619, Laurentius died, and Mellitus was chosen archbishop in his stead. He appears never to have received the pallium, though he retained the see for five years-a fact which may account for his not consecrating any bishops. During this time, he suffered constantly from ill-health. He consecrated a church to the Blessed Mother of God in the monastery of SS. Peter and Paul at Canterbury, and legend attributes to him the foundation of the Abbey of St. Peter at Westminster, but this is almost certainly incorrect. Among the many miracles recorded of him is the quelling of a great fire at Canterbury which threatened to destroy the entire city. The saint, although too ill to move, had himself carried to the spot where the fire was raging and, in answer to his prayer, a strong wind arose which bore the flames southwards away from the city. Mellitus was buried in the monastery of SS. Peter and Paul, afterwards St. Augustine's, Canterbury. Some relics of the saint were preserved in London in 1298. The most reliable account of his life is that given by Bede in "Hist. Eccl.", I, 29, 30; II, 3-7. Elmham in his "Historia Monasterii S. Augustini Cantuar.", edited by Hardwick, gives many additional details, but the authenticity of these is more than questionable. His feast is observed on April 24.
BEDE, Hist. Eccl., I, xxix, xxx; II, iii-vii, in P.L., XCV; Acta SS., April, III, 280; BARONIUS, Ann. Eccl. (Rome, 1599), ad an. 624; CAPGRAVE, Nova legenda Angliae (London, 1516), 228; HADDON AND STUBBS, Councils and Eccl. Documents relating to Great Britain, III (Oxford, 1871), 62-71; HARDY, Descriptive catalogue of MSS. relating to the history of Great Britain and Ireland, I (Rolls Series, London, 1862), i, 219-220; MABILLON, Acta Sanctorum Bened. (Paris, 1669), II, 90-94; STANTON, Menology of England and Wales (London, 1887), 178; CHALLONER, Britannia Sancta, I (London, 1745), 255-258.
Huddleston, Gilbert. "St. Mellitus." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 23 Apr. 2015 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10168b.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Kenneth M. Caldwell. Dedicated to the memory of Most Rev. John R. Keating, Bishop of Arlington.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
Mellitus of Canterbury, OSB B (RM)
Died at Canterbury, England, on April 24, 624. Saint Mellitus was a Roman abbot, probably of Saint Andrew's Monastery on the Coelian Hill. He is one of the second band of monks sent by Pope Saint Gregory the Great to England in 601 in the wake of Saint Augustine. Gregory sent him a famous letter that modified the pope's earlier ruling to Augustine. Through Mellitus, Gregory told Augustine not to destroy the pagan temples of the Saxons but only their idols. The temples, he said, should be converted into churches and their feasts taken over and directed to Christian purposes, such as dedications. This directive was important for the whole direction of missionary activity.
In 604, after three years of mission work in Kent, Mellitus was consecrated the first bishop of the East Saxons, with his see in London. As bishop, Mellitus travelled to Rome to consult with Pope Saint Boniface IV. While in Rome Mellitus participated in a synod of Italian bishops concerning the life of monks and their relationship to bishops. The decrees of the synod he carried back to England, together with letters from the pope to Archbishop Saint Laurence of Canterbury and King Ethelbert of Kent, who had built the first church of St. Paul in London.
Mellitus converted the king of the East Saxons, Sabert (Sigebert or Saeberht). Unfortunately, his royal sons did not follow suit. When Sabert died about 616, his three pagan sons (Sexred, Seward, and Sigebert) succeeded him and drove Mellitus out; for they had asked him to give them the "white bread" (the Eucharist), and he had refused because they were not baptized (or had apostatized according to some). Mellitus withdrew to Gaul for a year with Saint Justus of Rochester, who had experienced a similar setback in Kent.
Laurence recalled them both. Soon after Mellitus's return in 619 he was made archbishop of Canterbury, in 619, to succeed Saint Laurence. Bede says of him that he suffered from gout but that in spirit he was healthy and active, ever reaching out to the things of God: "Noble by birth, he was yet nobler in mind." Bede attributes the change of wind that saved the church of the Four Crowned Martyrs in Canterbury from incineration to Mellitus's being carried into the path of the flames to pray. It was Saint Mellitus who built Saint Mary's church at Canterbury, of which a fragment remains outside the east end of the foundations of the abbey church of SS. Peter and Paul (now Saint Augustine's).
The feast of Saint Mellitus was observed on numerous English calendars before and after the Norman conquest. He is also mentioned in the commemoration of the dead in the Stowe Missal, together with Laurence and Justus. His relics can be found near those of Augustine in the abbey church of Saints Peter and Paul in Canterbury (Attwater, Benedictines, Encyclopedia, Farmer, Husenbeth).
Saint Mellitus is portrayed in art as Saint Peter brings him a salmon to present to the king (Roeder).
- Mellitus of London
Abbot of Saint Andrew’s Abbey on the Coelian Hill in Rome, Italy. Sent by Pope Saint Gregory the Great as a missionary to England in 601. Worked for three years in Kent. Bishop of London, England in 604. Exiled to France for refusing to give Communion to apostates. Recalled to serve as Archbishop of Canterbury, England in 619.
Mellitus, the saint who retook London from barbarians
In an extract from his new book on landmark Londoners, Boris Johnson tells the tale of the Roman abbot who built the first church at St Paul’s
“Mellitus?” said the guide with an air of surprise. I felt as if I had gone into Waitrose and asked for something quaint —like a hogs-head of mead.
After all, it’s tricky finding a Londoner who has heard of Mellitus. But Vivien Kermath is one of the accredited red-sashed guides of St Paul’s Cathedral. She knows her stuff.
“Of course,” she said. “Mellitus. AD 604. He built the ﬁrst of several churches that have been on this site. Come this way, we have an icon.” “An icon?” I boggled.
We walked through the great church of Christopher Wren, past memorials of Nelson and Wellington. We passed where Lady Diana Spencer consecrated her ill-fated union to the Prince of Wales, and the list of former deans, including John Donne and his illustrious predecessor, Alexander Nowell, who discovered how to bottle beer – “probably his greatest contribution to humanity”, said Vivien.
At the far end of the church we came to the American memorial chapel, and there – perched above an illuminated book recording the names of the 28,000 Americans who gave their lives in the Second World War — is Mellitus.
To be accurate, it is a rather recent icon-style portrait of how Mellitus might have looked.
I stared at his long thin nose and deep-set brown eyes, and tried to think myself back into the mindset of this valiant Christian saint, this Roman abbot who had been sent here on his dangerous mission more than 1,400 years ago. Behind Mellitus was London, tightly walled and neatly roofed, with the dome of St Paul’s bulging to heaven. Showing off, I deciphered the Greek quotation on Mellitus’ open Bible. “And he who sat upon the throne said, behold, I make everything new.”
To make everything new. That was the mission of this Roman bishop to London. Fat chance.
Having paid my respects, I stood on the steps of St Paul’s imagining the terrible scene that must have greeted him. Roman London had waxed and waned since Hadrian had left in AD 122, but by AD 410, terrifying Saxon raids had suppressed the city. Londoners issued a desperate appeal for help to the emperor, Honorius. Sorry, he said, no can do.
London was forsaken, no longer deemed part of the empire. Nothing now stood in the way of the most powerful Germanic tribes, and over they came – and the Romano-Londoners were put to the sword or driven to the Celtic fringes of the country.
When Mellitus arrived at the place where I now stood, he saw a post-apocalyptic landscape for a proud Roman. In my mind’s eye I erased the buses and the tourists and the Costa coffees, and could see London as it appeared in 604. The baths and the amphitheatre were wrecked, and swine were kept in the atria of the old villas. The governor’s palace had tumbled to the ground, and huge tracts of the city — where once tens of thousands of ambitious Roman Londoners had lived and dreamed — were covered in black earth.
Such people as remained were called names like Cathwulf and Ceawlin and, let’s face it, were essentially German. They had taken off the togas that Agricola had taught them to wear, and they wore trousers. Yes, the barbarians wore the trousers in London now.
Yet it was worse than that; almost three centuries after Constantine’s conversion to Christianity, they now believed in the pagan German pantheon.
When Mellitus arrived, he found almost no evidence of the Christian presence. But he had a plan. He gazed about himself there on the top of Ludgate hill, and his eye settled on a dilapidated Roman temple. That would do, he thought.
His mission had been conceived in AD 591, when Pope Gregory had been mooching about a slave market in Rome. He spotted some male slaves with fair skin and golden hair. Where do that lot come from, he asked.
They are English, the auctioneer replied – or “Angli sunt.” Gregory clapped his hands and made a joke: “Haud Angli, sed Angeli!” (“Not Angles, but angels!”)
And tell me, he asked, are they Christian? Unfortunately not. Right, said Pope Gregory. We’ll see about that.
Gregory sent Mellitus with a letter on how to convert the heathen Brits. Whatever you do, said Gregory, don’t rush it. And don’t tear down their temples. Just build new huts on the side.
Somewhere on the site of what is now our cathedral, Mellitus persuaded the king (whose wife, as luck would have it, had Christian leanings) to allow him to construct a church. In the ruins of what had been a temple of Diana, he built a simple wooden nave and dedicated it to St Paul. Christianity was back in the soil of London – albeit only precariously. Following the death of two of his most important Saxon patrons, Mellitus was driven out of London, never to return.
In time, though, Mellitus’ legacy was to prove astonishing. That frail wooden Church of St Paul’s was to become the symbol of national deﬁance during the Blitz; and to this day, the glimpses of St Paul’s are so sacred to Londoners that they are protected by elaborate viewing corridors. No building may impede the sight of the dome from Richmond Hill, Primrose Hill and other high spots around the city.
And yet when Mellitus was kicked out, paganism remained so strong that it was not until 654 that Cedd succeeded as second bishop. In recapturing the city – and the country – for Christianity, Bishop Mellitus was a ﬁgure of decisive historical importance.
Imagine if he had never founded St Paul’s, or replanted the tender bloom of faith in the blackened soil of post-Roman London. Imagine if the British elite had continued – to this day – to swear by brooks and glades and rocks, and not by Jesus Christ.
* “Johnson’s Life of London: The People Who Made the City that Made the World”, by Boris Johnson, is published by Harper Press on Nov 3 at £20. To order for £18 plus £1.25 p&p, call Telegraph Books on 0844 871 1516 or visit books.telegraph.co.uk
SOURCE : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/borisjohnson/8857530/Mellitus-the-saint-who-retook-London-from-barbarians.html
The Story of St Mellitus
24 April is the anniversary of the death in 624 of Mellitus, first Bishop of London in the Anglo-Saxon period and third Archbishop of Canterbury. Mellitus arrived in England in 601, as part of the second wave of missionaries sent by Pope Gregory to support Augustine in his attempt to convert the Anglo-Saxons. With him came Justus (about whom I wrote here) and Paulinus (whose adventures in Northumbria you can read about here). Mellitus seems to have been the most senior of the party, since he is the addressee of the famous papal letter in which Gregory told the missionaries not to destroy the Anglo-Saxons' pagan temples, customs and sacrifices, but to replace them.
Thanks to Bede, we have a detailed account of Mellitus' activities once he arrived in Kent, and of the many trials and tribulations of the new church. Bede is always relevant, but between the missionaries' attempts to reach out to Scotland, trouble between church and state, and an argument about who can receive Communion, his story of Christianity's earliest years in England has a particularly 'ripped from the headlines' feeling this week...
We begin in Book II of the Historia Ecclesiastica (quotations are taken from A History of the English Church and People, trans. Leo Sherley-Price (Penguin, 1974), ch.3-7):
In the year of our Lord 604, Augustine, Archbishop of Britain, consecrated two bishops, Mellitus and Justus. Mellitus was appointed to preach in the province of the East Saxons, which is separated from Kent by the river Thames, and bounded on the east by the sea. Its capital is the city of London, which stands on the banks of the Thames, and is a trading centre for many nations who visit it by land and sea. At this time Sabert, Ethelbert's nephew through his sister Ricula, ruled the province under the suzerainty of Ethelbert, who, as already stated, governed all the English peoples as far north as the Humber. When this province too had received the faith through the preaching of Mellitus, King Ethelbert built a church dedicated to the holy Apostle Paul in the city of London, which he appointed as the episcopal see of Mellitus and his successors.
Augustine also consecrated Justus as bishop of a Kentish city which the English call Hrofescaestir after an early chieftain named Hrof. This lies nearly twenty-four miles west of Canterbury, and a church in honour of St. Andrew the Apostle was built here by King Ethelbert, who made many gifts to the bishops of both these churches as well as to Canterbury; he later added lands and property for the maintenance of the bishop's household.
So far, so good for the new church, with Augustine established in Canterbury, Mellitus in London and Justus in Rochester. The church founded for Mellitus has since been rebuilt many times over, of course, but it still bears the name by which its first bishop knew it: St Paul's.
Augustine died in 604 and was buried at what is now St Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury:
He was succeeded by Laurence, a member of the original Augustinian mission, who not only sought to consolidate the new faith's position in England but also tried to extend it to Scotland, writing to the bishops of the British church to urge them to 'maintain the unity of the universal church' by following Roman practice. ('The present state of affairs shows how little he succeeded', says Bede.) But the new church in England was not secure, and was dangerously dependent on the personal support of King Ethelbert - which became a problem when Ethelbert died in 616:
The death of Ethelbert and the accession of his son Eadbald proved to be a severe setback to the growth of the young church; for not only did [Eadbald] refuse to accept the faith of Christ, but he was also guilty of such fornication as the Apostle Paul mentions as being unheard of even among the heathen, in that he took his father's wife as his own. His immorality was an incentive to those who, either out of fear or favour to the king his father, had submitted to the discipline of faith and chastity, to revert to their former uncleanness. However, this apostate king did not escape the scourge of God's punishment, for he was subject to frequent fits of insanity and possessed by an evil spirit.
The death of the Christian King Sabert of the East Saxons aggravated the upheaval; for when he departed for the heavenly kingdom he left three sons, all pagans, to inherit his earthly kingdom. These were quick to profess idolatry, which they had pretended to abandon during the lifetime of their father, and encouraged the people to return to the old gods. It is told that when they saw Bishop Mellitus offering solemn Mass in church, they said with barbarous presumption: "Why do you not offer us the white bread which you used to give to our father Saba (for so they used to call him), while you continue to give it to the people in church?" The bishop answered, "If you will be washed in the waters of salvation as your father was, you may share in the consecrated bread, as he did; but so long as you reject the water of life, you are quite unfit to receive the Bread of Life." They retorted, "We refuse to enter that font and see no need for it; but we want to be strengthened with this bread." The bishop then carefully and repeatedly explained that this was forbidden, and that no one was admitted to receive the most holy communion without the most holy cleansing of baptism. At last they grew very angry, and said, "If you will not oblige us by granting such an easy request, you shall no longer remain in our kingdom." And they drove him into exile, and ordered all his followers to leave their borders.
This is interesting, and not only because it provides what may be the first recorded instance of an Anglo-Saxon nickname ('Saba' for 'Sæberht')! For all that Bede calls the sons' demand 'barbarous presumption', it's not surprising that they would struggle to understand Mellitus' refusal to give them the 'white bread' he gave their father, with its apparently magical 'strengthening' power.
After his expulsion, Mellitus came to Kent to consult with his fellow-bishops Laurence and Justus on the best course of action; and they decided it would be better for all of them to return to their own country and serve God in freedom, rather than to remain impotently among heathens who had rejected the faith. Mellitus and Justus left first and settled in Gaul to await the outcome of events. But the kings who had driven out the herald of truth did not remain long unpunished for their worship of demons, for they and their army fell in battle against the West Saxons. Nevertheless, the fate of the instigators did not cause their people to abandon their evil practices, or to return to the simple faith and love to be found in Christ alone.
This was a tipping-point for the new church, and could have been the end of Augustine's mission - but for a miraculous dream:
On the very night before Laurence too was to follow Mellitus and Justus from Britain, he ordered his bed to be placed in the church of the blessed Apostles, Peter and Paul, of which we have spoken several times. Here after long and fervent prayers for the sadly afflicted church he lay down and fell asleep. At dead of night, blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles, appeared to him, and set about him for a long time with a heavy scourge, demanding with apostolic sternness why he was abandoning the flock entrusted to his care, and to which of the shepherds he would commit Christ's sheep left among the wolves when he fled. "Have you forgotten my example?" asked Peter. "For the sake of the little ones whom Christ entrusted to me as proof of his love, I suffered chains, blows, imprisonment, and pain. Finally I endured death, the death of crucifixion, at the hands of unbelievers and enemies of Christ, so that at last I might be crowned with him." Deeply moved by the words and scourging of blessed Peter, Christ's servant Laurence sought audience with the king [Eadbald] early next morning, and removing his garment, showed him the marks of the lash. The king was astounded, and enquired who had dared to scourge so eminent a man; and when he learned that it was for his own salvation that the archbishop had suffered so severely at the hands of Christ's own Apostle, he was greatly alarmed. He renounced idolatry, gave up his unlawful wife, accepted the Christian faith, and was baptised, henceforward promoting the welfare of the church with every means at his disposal.
The king also sent to Gaul and recalled Mellitus and Justus, giving them free permission to return and set their churches in order; so, the year after they left, they returned. Justus came back to his own city of Rochester, but the people of London preferred their own idolatrous priests, and refused to accept Mellitus as bishop. And since the king's authority in the realm was not so effective as that of his father, he was powerless to restore the bishop to his see against the refusal and resistance of the pagans.
Bede makes it clear that the new church could do nothing without the support of the king, and that where the king's authority stopped, there was nothing the bishops could do. Laurence died in 619 and was buried near Augustine, and Mellitus, unable to return to London, succeeded him as Archbishop of Canterbury. Bede tells us:
Although Mellitus became crippled with the gout, his sound and ardent mind overcame his troublesome infirmity, ever reaching above earthly things to those that are heavenly in love and devotion. Noble by birth, he was even nobler in mind.
I record one among many instances of his virtue. One day the city of Canterbury was set on fire through carelessness, and the spreading flames threatened to destroy it. Water failed to extinguish the fire, and already a considerable area of the city was destroyed. As the raging flames were sweeping rapidly towards his residence, the bishop, trusting in the help of God where man's help had failed, ordered himself to be carried into the path of its leaping and darting advance. In the place where the flames were pressing most fiercely stood the church of the Four Crowned Martyrs. Hither the bishop was borne by his attendants, and here by his prayers this infirm man averted the danger which all the efforts of strong men had been powerless to check. For the southerly wind, which had been spreading the flames throughout the city, suddenly veered to the north, thus saving the places that lay in their path; then it dropped altogether, so that the fires burned out and died. Thus Mellitus, the man of God, afire with love for him, because it had been his practice by constant prayers and teaching to fend off storms of spiritual evil from himself and his people, was deservedly empowered to save them from material winds and flames.
The site of this lost 'church of the Four Crowned Martyrs' in Canterbury isn't known, but if it was near the Archbishop's Palace it was probably close to the site of the present-day St Alphege's Church:
Having ruled the church five years, Mellitus likewise departed to the heavenly kingdom in the reign of King Eadbald, and was laid to rest with his predecessors in the same monastery church of the holy Apostle Peter on the twenty-fourth day of April, in the year of our Lord 624.
Along with Augustine and his other companions, Mellitus came to be venerated as a saint, at least at St Augustine's Abbey.