King Ethelbert – the sixth-century monarch based at Canterbury – was celebrated on Tuesday 23rd February in a rare ceremony at St Augustine’s, Ramsgate.
The day after it was revealed Queen Elizabeth acknowledges Jesus Christ as the king she serves, Bishop Schneider was preaching how the first English Christian king made a similar acknowledgement 1,400 years ago.
Bishop Schneider’s comments were made during a Pontifical High Mass – a now-unusual form of Catholic worship. Music was sung by The Victoria Consort, under the direction of Tom Neal. They sang “Mass for Five Voices” by William Byrd – the same music sung by Westminster Cathedral Choir for the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to London in 2010. The Master of Ceremonies was Richard Hawker.
The event was to celebrate the 1,400th anniversary of the death of King Ethelbert. It was King Ethelbert who welcomed St Augustine to England in 597AD. He was King of Kent and principal monarch in England at the turn of the seventh century. He co-founded Canterbury Cathedral with St Augustine of Canterbury. He welcomed St Augustine when he arrived in 597AD from Rome, and converted to Christianity soon after. He promulgated the first written laws in England, and encouraged education and learning.
Thus King Ethelbert was the first English Christian monarch, co-founder of Canterbury Cathedral, initiator of England’s legal system, and much modern English culture and history can trace its roots to him.
This is a significant anniversary in Ramsgate because Ethelbert was king of the whole of Kent (and supreme up to the Humber) and came to Ramsgate to meet St Augustine in 597AD. Out of his meeting near Ramsgate, and his living in Canterbury, arose Canterbury Cathedral and the following great history of that place. Also, the Catholic parish church in Ramsgate – St Ethelbert’s – is dedicated to him. Thus there is strong historical and current attachment in the town to our own sixth-century king.
Without King Ethelbert the renowned story of St Thomas Becket would not have occurred. It is fitting that a group from St Augustine’s will be visiting Canterbury on 28th May to celebrate the visit of relics of St Thomas Becket to Canterbury Cathedral from Esztergom, Hungary.
In a moving sermon, the bishop’s message was that, just as King Ethelbert risked much to become the first English Christian king, and English kings and queens have continued with that message of hope, and that many ordinary people have acknowledged Christ as king, so we should continue to do the same in our time.
Bishop Schneider told the story of Blessed José Sánchez who was a Mexican boy hacked to death in 1928, aged 14, for declaring that Christ is king. Despite having the soles of his feet cut off and being forced to walk towards the town cemetery, he continued to proclaim, “Vivo Christo Rey” – “Long live Christ the King”.
The bishop also referred to the saintly kings of England (such as St Edward the Confessor) who have professed the Christian message through the centuries.
The full text of the sermon is expected to be published shortly.
Speaking after the bishop’s visit, Fr Marcus Holden, Rector of St Augustine’s, said, “It is a great honour to have Bishop Schneider visit Ramsgate. He helped us to recall the value of King St Ethelbert’s example and see how we can continue to learn from our saintly past Kentish monarch. Bishop Schneider is well known for his writings and is widely considered a remarkably holy man. Being able to attract such a significant man to Ramsgate is a real coup for the town.”
Bishop Schneider was last in Ramsgate to celebrate St Augustine’s Day, in May 2014. Earlier on Tuesday Bishop Schneider had given talks to a group of thirty priests.