samedi 25 février 2017

Saint ETHELBERT de KENT, roi et confesseur

Statue d’Æthelberht à la cathédrale de Cantorbéry.

Saint Ethelbert

Roi du Kent et Confesseur ( 616)

Il fut le premier roi chrétien de Kent. Il était marié avec Berthe la fille du roi des Francs. Il écouta avec bienveillance les paroles de saint Augustin de Canterbury, un des moines qu'avait envoyés le pape saint Grégoire de Rome. Il se convertit et fut baptisé par saint Augustin lui-même qui revenait d'Arles en Provence où il avait reçu la consécration épiscopale. Saint Ethelbert fit bâtir la première cathédrale Saint Paul de Londres. 

À Cantorbéry en Angleterre, l’an 616, la mise au tombeau de saint Éthelbert, roi du Kent, que saint Augustin, encore moine, convertit à la foi du Christ et baptisa, le premier des rois du peuple des Angles.

Martyrologe romain

Entraînez les autres avec vous. Qu’ils soient vos compagnons sur la route qui mène à Dieu. Que celui qui, dans son cœur, a déjà entendu l’appel de l’amour divin en tire pour son prochain une parole d’encouragement.

Saint Grégoire le Grand


ETHELBERT (mort en 616) roi du Kent (560-616)
Un des premiers souverains saxons qui ait eu quelque importance après les invasions barbares. Ethelbert (ou Æthelberht) semble avoir réussi à établir sa suprématie sur d'autres branches des peuples conquérants et aurait été l'un des sept souverains ayant accédé au titre de Bretwalda, symbole de souveraineté sur l'Angleterre du Sud tout entière. Ayant épousé Berthe, fille du roi franc Caribert Ier, il l'autorise à pratiquer la religion chrétienne à Canterbury, sa capitale. En 597, il accorde l'hospitalité à saint Augustin, envoyé par Grégoire le Grand, et finit par se convertir lui-même au christianisme ; il encourage ses sujets à l'imiter, tout en refusant de les y contraindre. Il aide Augustin à construire ou à reconstruire plusieurs églises, et le moine en mission fixe provisoirement à Canterbury la métropole catholique de l'Angleterre. Cette situation provisoire convient à Ethelbert, qui n'aurait pas facilement admis de voir passer à Londres la suprématie religieuse, et elle sera donc consolidée et pérennisée. Le roi réussit à convaincre des souverains moins importants d'imiter son propre comportement religieux. Il promulgue en 604 un code de lois, en partie inspiré des derniers codes romains, mais où une large place semble faite au principe de la composition. Bien que le triomphe de la religion chrétienne ait été remis en question dès la mort du souverain, celui-ci n'en a pas moins influé sur la carte diocésaine future de l'Angleterre.
Roland MARX, « ETHELBERT (mort en 616) roi du Kent (560-616)  », Encyclopædia Universalis [en ligne], consulté le 25 février 2017. URL :
Doyle, James William Edmund ()  La conversion d’Æthelberht, "The Saxons" in A Chronicle of England: B.C. 55 – A.D. 1485, London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts & Green
Ethelbert of Kent, King (RM)

(also known as Ædilberct, Æthelberht, Aibert, Edilbertus)

Born c. 560; died at Canterbury on February 24, 616; feast day formerly February 24.

In the days of the Saxons, Ethelbert, great-grandson of Hengist, the first Saxon conqueror of Britain, reigned for 36 years over Kent beginning about 560, the oldest of the kingdoms. Although he had been defeated by Ceawlin of Wessex at the battle of Wimbledon in 568, Ethelbert became the third bretwalda of England, exercising supremacy over all other Saxon kings and princes south of the Humber. Under his rule Kent was the most cultured of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms; it was closely associated with the Frankish Rhineland.

He married a Christian princess, Bertha, granddaughter of King Clovis of the Franks and sister of Chilperic's brother Charibert, king of Paris. Bertha brought with her to England her own chaplain, Bishop Saint Liudhard of Senlis, and in a church built in Roman times in Canterbury that was dedicated to Saint Martin, he preached the Gospel in a heathen land.

Bertha herself was lovable and gentle, and though we know little of her life, her memory remains as a bright light shining in the darkness of those ancient days. Bertha was a zealous and pious Christian princess, who by the articles of her marriage had free liberty to exercise her religion. To Ethelbert and his people she brought the pattern and example of a Christian life and prepared the way for the coming of Augustine (Austin). Although in one place Saint Gregory the Great compares her piety and zeal to that of Saint Helen, as late as 601, he reproached her for not having converted her husband.

Although Ethelbert was a very courteous man, he was himself not yet a Christian. When Augustine and his missionaries, sent from Rome by Gregory the Great, landed on the isle of Thanet and requested Ethelbert's permission to preach, he ordered them to remain where they were and arranged for them to be well tended until he had reached a decision.

Ethelbert feared that the missionaries might be magicians, so he would not receive them indoors, in case he needed to retreat quickly from their sorcery. In that time they believed at that time, an evil spell would be ineffective outdoors. So the king arranged to meet them in the open air on Thanet Island under a great oak.

They came in the bright morning light, the emissaries of Rome, bearing before them a great silver cross and a picture of our Lord painted on a large wooden panel, and chanting Gregorian strains. At their head marched Augustine, whose tall figure and patrician features were the center of attention. it was a moving sight, and who could have foretold all that the day held in store for England! As the paraded forwarded they prayed for their salvation and that of the English.

The king, surrounded by a great company of courtiers, invited the visitors to be seated, and after listening carefully to what Augustine had to say, gave a generous answer: "You make fair speeches and promises, but all this is to me new and uncertain. I cannot all at once put faith in what you tell me, and abandon all that I, with my whole nation, have for so long a time held sacred. But since you have come from so far away to impart to us what you yourselves, by what I see, believe to be the truth and the supreme good, we shall do you no hurt, but, on the contrary, shall show you all hospitality, and shall take care to furnish you with the means of living. We shall not hinder you from preaching your religion, and you may convert whom you can."

He accommodated them in the royal city of Canterbury and before the year was over there were 10,000 converts according to a letter from Saint Gregory to Patriarch Eulogius of Alexandria. On Whit Sunday 597 (traditionally, though it is more likely to have occurred in 601), King Ethelbert himself was baptized by Saint Augustine. In 601, Gregory wrote an encouraging letter to Ethelbert, congratulating him on becoming a Christian. Not since the conversions of Constantine and Clovis had Christendom known an event so thrillingly momentous.

From that time, Ethelbert was changed into another man. His only ambition during the last 20 years of his life was to establish the perfect reign of Christ in his own soul and in the hearts of his subjects. His ardor in penitential exercises and devotion never abated. It must have been difficult to master his will in the while wielding temporal power and wealth, but Ethelbert continuously advanced in the path of perfection.

In the government of his kingdom, his thoughts were completely turned upon the best means of promoting the welfare of his people. He enacted wholesome laws, abolished the worship of idols, and turned pagan temples into churches. While he granted religious freedom to his subjects, believing conversion by conviction was the only true conversion, thousands of them also became Christians. His code of laws for Kent is the earliest known legal document written in a Germanic language. The first law decreed that any person who stole from the church or clergy must make immediate reparation.

Ethelbert gave his royal palace of Canterbury to Saint Augustine for his use, founded a cathedral there, and built the abbey of Saints Peter and Paul (later called Saint Austin's) just outside the city walls. He also laid the foundations for Saint Andrew's in Rochester and many other churches. King Ethelbert was instrumental in bringing King Sebert (Sabert) of the East Saxons and King Redwald of the East Angles to faith in Christ. He built the cathedral of Saint Paul's in London in the territory of King Sebert.

Saint Gregory the Great, delighted with the progress made in the English mission field, sent a number of presents to King Ethelbert. The pope wrote that "by means of the good gifts that God has granted to you, I know He blesses your people as well." He urged King Ethelbert to destroy the shrines of idols and to raise the moral standards of his subjects by his own good example.

Upon his death, Ethelbert was buried beside his first wife Bertha in the porticus (side-chapel) of St. Martin in the Abbey Church of SS. Peter and Paul. Later his relics were deposited under the high altar of that same church, then called Saint Austin's. Polydore Virgil reports that a vigil light was kept before the tomb of Saint Ethelbert, and was sometimes an instrument of miracles even in the days of King Henry VIII. There seems to have been an unofficial cultus at Canterbury from early times, but his feast is found in calendars only from the 13th century, and generally on February 25 or 26, because Saint Matthias occupied February 24. He is commemorated in both the Roman and British Martyrologies (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Delaney, Farmer, Gill, Husenbeth). 

St. Ethelbert
King of Kent; b. 552; d. 24 February, 616; son of Eormenric, through whom he was descended from Hengest. He succeeded his father, in 560, as King of Kent and made an unsuccessful attempt to win from Ceawlin of Wessex the overlordship of Britain. His political importance was doubtless advanced by his marriage with Bertha, daughter of Charibert, King of the Franks (see BERTHA I). A noble disposition to fair dealing is argued by his giving her the old Roman church of St. Martin in his capital of Cantwaraburh (Canterbury) and affording her every opportunity for the exercise of her religion, although he himself had been reared, and remained, a worshipper of Odin. The same natural virtue, combined with a quaint spiritual caution and, on the other hand, a large instinct of hospitality, appears in his message to St. Augustine when, in 597, the Apostle of England landed on the Kentish coast (see AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY).

In the interval between Ethelbert's defeat by Ceawlin and the arrival of the Roman missionaries, the death of the Wessex king had left Ethelbert, at least virtually, supreme in southern Britain, and his baptism, which took place on Whitsunday next following the landing of Augustine (2 June, 597) had such an effect in deciding the minds of his wavering countrymen that as many as 10,000 are said to have followed his example within a few months. Thenceforward Ethelbert became the watchful father of the infant Anglo-Saxon Church. He founded the church which in after-ages was to be the primatial cathedral of all England, besides other churches at Rochester and Canterbury. But, although he permitted, and even helped, Augustine to convert a heathen temple into the church of St. Pancras (Canterbury), he never compelled his heathen subjects to accept baptism. Moreover, as the lawgiver who issued their first written laws to the English people (the ninety "Dooms of Ethelbert", A.D. 604) he holds in English history a place thoroughly consistent with his character as the temporal founder of that see which did more than any other for the upbuilding of free and orderly political institutions in Christendom. When St. Mellitus had converted Sæbert, King of the East Saxons, whose capital was London, and it was proposed to make that see the metropolitan, Ethelbert, supported by Augustine, successfully resisted the attempt, and thus fixed for more than nine centuries the individual character of the English church. He left three children, of whom the only son, Eadbald, lived and died a pagan.


STUBBS in Dici. Christ. Biogr., s.v.; HUNT in Dict. Nat. Biogr., s.v.; BEDE, Hist. Eccl., I, II; GREGORY OF TOURS, Historia Francorum, IV, IX; Acta SS.; BUTLER, Lives of the Saints, 24 Feb.

Macpherson, Ewan. "St. Ethelbert." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 25 Feb. 2017 <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Robert B. Olson. Offered to Almighty God for Timothy and Theresa Leland & Family.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. May 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.
HE was king of Kent, the fifth descendant from Hengist, who first settled the English Saxons in Britain, in 448, and the foundation of whose kingdom is dated in 455. Ethelbert married, in his father’s life-time, Bertha, the only daughter of Charibert, king of Paris, and cousin-german to Clotaire, king of Soissons, and Childebert, king of Austrasia, whose two sons, Theodobert, and Theodoric, or Thierry, reigned after his death, the one in Austrasia, the other in Burgundy. Ethelbert succeeded his father Ermenric, in 560. The kingdom of Kent having enjoyed a continued peace for about a hundred years, was arrived at a degree of power and riches, which gave it a pre-eminence in the Saxon heptarchy in Britain, and so great a superiority and influence over the rest, Ethelbert is said by Bede to have ruled as far as the Humber, and Ethelbert is often styled king of the English. His queen Bertha was a very zealous and pious Christian princess, and by the articles of her marriage had free liberty to exercise her religion; for which purpose she was attended by a venerable French prelate, named Luidhard, or Lethard, bishop of Senlis. He officiated constantly in an old church dedicated to St. Martin, lying a little out of the walls of Canterbury. The exemplary life of this prelate, and his frequent discourses on religion, disposed several Pagans about the court to embrace the faith. The merit of the queen in the great work of her husband’s conversion is acknowledged by our historians, and she deserved by her piety and great zeal to be compared by St. Gregory the Great, to the celebrated St. Helen. 1
Divine providence, by these means, mercifully prepared the heart of a great king to entertain a favourable opinion of our holy religion, when St. Augustine landed in his dominions: to whose life the reader is referred for an account of this monarch’s happy conversion to the faith. From that time he appeared quite changed into another man, it being for the remaining twenty years of his life his only ambition and endeavour to establish the perfect reign of Christ, both in his own soul and in the hearts of all his subjects. His ardour in the exercises of penance and devotion never suffered any abatement, this being a property of true virtue, which is not to be acquired without much labour and pains, self-denial and watchfulness, resolution, and constancy. Great were, doubtless, the difficulties and dangers which he had to encounter in subduing his passions, and in vanquishing many obstacles which the world and devil failed not to raise: but these trials were infinitely subservient to his spiritual advancement, by rousing him continually to greater vigilance and fervour, and by the many victories and the exercise of all heroic virtues of which they furnished the occasions. In the government of his kingdom, his thoughts were altogether turned upon the means of best promoting the welfare of his people. He enacted most wholesome laws, which were held in high esteem in succeeding ages in this island: he abolished the worship of idols throughout his kingdom, and shut up their temples, or turned them into churches. His royal palace at Canterbury he gave for the use of the archbishop St. Austin: he founded in that city the cathedral called Christ Church, and built without the walls the abbey and church of SS. Peter and Paul, afterwards called St. Austin’s. The foundation of St. Andrew’s at Rochester, St. Paul’s at London, and many other churches, affords many standing proofs of his munificence to the church, and the servants of God. He was instrumental in bringing over to the faith of Christ, Sebert, king of the East-Saxons, with his people, and Redwald, king of the East-Angles, though the latter afterwards relapsing, pretended to join the worship, of idols with that of Christ. King Ethelbert, after having reigned fifty-six years, exchanged his temporal diadem for an eternal crown, in 616, and was buried in the church of SS. Peter and Paul. His remains were afterwards deposited under the high altar in the same church, then called St. Austin’s. St. Ethelbert is commemorated on this day in the British and Roman Martyrologies: he was vulgarly called by our ancestors St. Albert, under which name he is titular saint of several churches in England; particularly of one in Norwich, which was built before the cathedral, an account of which is given by Blomfield, in his history of Norfolk, and the city of Norwich. Polydore Virgil tells us that a light was kept always burning before the tomb of St. Ethelbert, and was sometimes an instrument of miracles, even to the days of Henry VIII. See Bede, Hist. Ang. l. 1. c. 25, &c. Henschen. t. 3. Febr. p. 471.
Note 1. St. Greg. M. l. 9. ep. 60. [back]
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73).  Volume II: February. The Lives of the Saints.  1866.

Saint Ethelbert of Kent

Also known as
  • Ædilberct
  • Æthelberht
  • Aedilberct
  • Aethelberht
  • Aibert
  • Albert
  • Edilbertus

Son of Eormenric; great-grandson of Hengist, Saxon conqueror of Britain. Raised as a pagan worshipper of Odin. King of Kent (in modern England) in 560. Defeated by Ceawlin of Wessex at the battle of Wimbledon in 568, ending his attempt to rule all of Britain. Married the Christian Bertha, daughter of Charibert, King of the Franks; they had three children, including Saint Ethelburgh of Kent. Convert to Christianity, baptized by Saint Augustine of Canterbury in 597; his example led to the baptism of 10,000 of his countrymen within a few months, and he supported Augustine in his missionary work with land, finances and influence. Issued the first written laws to the English people in 604.

Ethelbert, 1st Christian King of Kent
The fortunes of Christianity have waxed and waned in Britain. Early in church history, so many Celts converted to Christ that the island could be called a Christian country. One of its sons, Patrick, carried the gospel to Ireland where Christianity also triumphed. However, the Celts fell to an invasion by Angles, Saxons and Jutes in the fifth century. The Anglo-Saxons were pagans, worshipping the Norse gods, whose pantheon was headed by Odin.

Celtic Christians, hating the invaders who had robbed them of their land, made little or no effort to convert them to Christ. In the sixth century, Irish monks crossing from Ireland, began the conversion of pagan England from the north. In the seventh century Augustine of Canterbury brought the gospel to Kent, in the south.

Ethelbert ruled Kent then. He worshipped Odin, the god of his fathers, but allowed his wife, Bertha, to practice Christianity. She was the daughter of a Christianized French king. Perhaps her influence explains why Ethelbert was gracious to Augustine when he came, declaring that he brought news of an eternal kingdom.

According to the eighth-century Anglo-Saxon historian Bede, Ethelbert agreed to meet Augustine and hear what he had to say. The meeting had to be in the open, however. The king believed that Augustine's "magic" could only work on him inside a building.

In spite of his precautions, Ethelbert was eventually converted with thousands of his followers, although he did not compel any of them to become Christians. The king built several church buildings and gave Augustine the ground at Canterbury where the cathedral now stands. It has always been the primary see of England.

Although Ethelbert's most important act was to accept the Christian faith, he is notable for promulgating the first English code of law and for bringing most of Anglo-Saxon England under his rather loose authority.

On February 24, 616 the king died. Because that is the feast of St. Matthias, Ethelbert is commemorated not on his death day, but on the following day, February 25.
  1. "Augustine, St., of Canterbury," and "Ethelbert, St." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
  2. Bede. A History of the English Church and People [Ecclesiastical History of England]. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1968.
  3. Hook, Walter Farquhar, 1798-1875. Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury. London, R. Bentley, 1865 - 1884.
  4. Howorth, Henry Hoyle. Saint Augustine of Canterbury. London : J. Murrary, 1913.
  5. McKilliam, A. E. Chronicle of the Archbishops of Canterbury. London: James Clarke, 1913.
  6. "St. Augustine of Canterbury," and "St. Ethelbert." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.