Looking into the lives of prominent persons such as kings and archbishops, we get a snapshot of their day. The life of St. Honorius of Canterbury shows us a land in turmoil but a church steadily expanding.
Honorius is thought to have been one of the Benedictine monks sent by Pope Gregory I to convert the English. Whether he traveled there with St. Augustine of Canterbury in 596 or was sent with the second group in 601 is not certain. In fact, little is known of him, except that by his fervent and holy life he helped convert the people of Kent to Christianity.
When Archbishop Justus of Canterbury died around 627 or 628, Honorius was chosen to fill his place. In theory, this should have been done by bishops of his own diocese, but that was impossible. Such were the storms of the time that London and Rochester were both without bishops. The only bishop in England who could consecrate Honorious (preserving the apostolic succession) was Paulinus of York,* who was engaged in mission work in Northumbria.
Paulinus and Honorius met in Lincoln, where the former consecrated the latter as the fifth Archbishop of Canterbury.
In those days, delays in communication with Rome were lengthy. The two wrote to Rome, asking for the pope to send them their pallia--cloths of wool that bishops wore on their shoulders as a symbol that their authority was recognized by the pope. The pope sent the pallia and also gave them written permission to appoint each others successors in event of death. That letter made Paulinus the first Bishop of York.
He would not enjoy his position long. The pagan king, Penda of Mercia, marched across Northumbria, slaughtering its newly converted Christian king and many other people, burning towns as he went. Paulinus fled south, where Honorius made him Bishop of Rochester.
During Honorius' days as Archbishop, King Oswald, reared by monks on the island of Iona, ascended to the throne of Northumbria and invited Aidan, who was of the Celtic tradition, to preach to his people. Aidan founded Lindisfarne. Soon the Roman and Celtic traditions would clash.
While the north was being Christianized by Celts, Honorius sent his own missionary to East Anglia. This was Felix and he accomplished his goal. His see was at Dunwich, but the ocean has since washed it away.
Honorius broke the race barrier, consecrating at different times, the first three English-born bishops for the church. These were Ithamar, Thomas and Beretgils. When Honorius died on this day, September 30, 653, he was buried at Canterbury. After a wait of eighteen months, his place was taken by Deusdedit, the first English-born Archbishop of Canterbury.
*York was the capital of Northumbria. Founded by the Romans, they called it Eboracum but when Danes captured it they named it Jorvik from which we got the name York.
- "Honorius." The Dictionary of National Biography, founded in 1882 by George Smith; edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. London: Oxford University Press, 1921 - 1996.
- Hook, Walter Farquhar, 1798-1875. Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury. London, R. Bentley, 1865-1884.
- Keating, Joseph. "St. Honorius." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1910.
- McKilliam, A. E. A Chronicle of the Archbishops of Canterbury. London: James Clarke and Co., 1913.
- Various short internet articles.