Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark will formally inaugurate the official shrine of St Augustine at Pugin’s personal church in Ramsgate, Kent, to mark the beginning of St Augustine’s week – a week of Catholic history and culture.
The inauguration will take place at St Augustine’s Church at 6.30pm on Sunday, 20 May during Vespers and Benediction. During this week of celebration there will a number of historical and cultural events including talks and lectures inside the church as well as walks, visits and processions.
The last shrine of Augustine was destroyed in the 16th century. A shrine to St Augustine existed on the Isle of Thanet before the Reformation and so this new place of pilgrimage recovers an ancient tradition.
St Augustine’s is a Catholic church already dedicated to the saint and stands closer than any other to the place of Augustine’s landing, his first preaching and his momentous encounter with King Ethelbert of Kent in 597AD.
The official decree for the foundation of the new shrine was made on 1 March. This, fittingly, is Pugin’s birthday and recently the day of popular bicentenary celebrations in his honour. This day links the erection of the shrine with the church’s founder who is buried within. The cult of St Augustine is fully in tune with the heart and mind of Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-1852). He states in his letters that he selected the Ramsgate site because ‘blessed Austin landed nearby’ and he personally chose the dedication name and wanted the church to be a memorial to the founding identity of Christian England and its early saints.
There already exists a strong local interest and devotion to the saint. His feast day each year in celebrated in Ramsgate but this will be the first time in 500 years that Augustine will be honoured in an official shrine. It is hoped that the celebrations will encourage more pilgrims to journey to Thanet from all over England and beyond to learn about the conversion of the English and the beginnings of Christianity in this land.
St Augustine’s already attracts a huge number of Christians from other churches and communities who are interested in learning about common roots in the faith of Christ. Many secular visitors come to enjoy the architecture, the art and the atmosphere of the place. Local schools have a visiting programme and come to learn about the saints and about Pugin. The church is adorned with a collection of images of St Augustine in the finest stone and stained glass including a ‘Hardman Powell’ series of windows above Pugin’s tomb relating the story of Augustine’s mission and especially the moment of setting foot on a land explicitly demarcated as ‘Thanet’.
Fr Marcus Holden the parish priest and custodian of St Augustine’s commented, ‘We are delighted that this year’s St Augustine’s week will start with the inauguration of his Shrine. We hope that we will attract more visitors to come and enjoy visiting Pugin’s favourite church. We are still trying to rescue the church as a great work of architecture and there is still much to do, but the shrine gives the church a fitting spiritual significance and will help us to continue to restore the site.”
The church is presently being restored and brought back to its former glory and major celebrations are planned this year surrounding the feast day of St Augustine. The shrine will highlight the close bond between Rome and England as St Augustine was sent on his mission directly by Pope Gregory the Great.