Title: Augustine Came to Kent
Author: Barbara Willard
Major Themes: Britain, British History, Missionaries, Roman Britain
Synopsis: A British-born boy goes with the mission sent by Pope Gregory to take Christianity back to Britain after the Romans withdrew.
I love a well-done historical fiction, one that sticks close to the facts but fleshes them out into a good story. Augustine Came to Kent is one such book. I believe this is the third of Barbara Willard’s books that we’ve read in the past year or so, and the best of the three. We read If All the Swords in England recently, but really should have read Augustine first. Oh, well.
As the story begins, it is 597 and the Romans lost control of Britain a couple hundred years ago already—last year we read the story about their leaving in The Lantern Bearers. In Augustine Came to Kent, the story begins in Rome, with the family of a man, Wolfstan, who was captured in Britain about 10 years previous and sold as a slave in Rome. When the man who was to become Pope Gregory saw him and his companion in the slave market he was so struck with their appearance that he thought they ought to be called Angels rather than Angles. He bought the two and freed them, and sent for Wolfstan’s wife and son from Britain. Wolfstan became the bailiff over the Pope’s lands. Now the day has come when a mission can be sent to Britain to take Christianity back to what has become a heathen land again since the withdrawal of the Romans. Wolfstan’s wife has just died, so he and his son Wolf, the main character of the story, join the mission.
When the missionaries land on the shores of Britain, very near the same place from which the Romans withdrew, as described in The Lantern Bearers, the first person any of them sees is a young girl, whom Wolf captures. She bursts out laughing uncontrollably as soon as he starts speaking in the British language—what is wrong? When one of the other interpreters starts talking to the group of British men who come to meet them, they begin laughing, as well. What is wrong?
The struggle is on now between the “new” Christian religion and the old religion of the Druids. It helps that the king’s wife is a Christian, but will her influence be enough to counter her husband’s heathen beliefs? What happens when Wolfstan and Wolf go to the village in which they were born to try to take Christianity to the people there? Tragedy follows, as well as young love, but will the young love be able to survive the demands of the people around?
Augustine Came to Kent does a superb job of bringing Pope Gregory’s mission to life. I’ve read short bits about this historical event in many history books, but none came close to being as memorable as this novel.
WARNING: Chapter 9 (page 129) mentions the group seeing the remains of a human sacrifice.
Listening Level—Ages 8 – 12, 10 – 12, Family Friendly
Reading Independently—Ages 10 – 12, 12 – 15