Cookies on our website

We use cookies on this website, mainly to provide a secure browsing experience but also to collect statistics on how the website is used. You can find out more about the cookies we set, the information we store and how we use it on the cookies page.



Pre-Christian Religions of the North: Sources

Menu Search

in progress

According to Bede, Gregory sends a letter to Mellitus on 17 June 601 about how to deal with the vestiges of the pre-Christian religion in Britain.


HEGA ch. 31 (I 30)

I 30.

ABEUNTIBUS autem praefatis legatariis, misit post eos beatus pater Gregorius litteras memoratu dignas, in quibus aperte, quam studiose erga saluationem nostrae gentis inuigilauerit, ostendit, ita scribens:

‘Dilectissimo filio Mellito abbati Gregorius seruus seruorum Dei.

Post discessum congregationis nostrae, quae tecum est, ualde sumus suspensi redditi, quia nihil de prosperitate uestri itineris audisse nos contigit. Cum ergo Deus omnipotens uos ad reuerentissimum uirum fratrem nostrum Augustinum episcopum perduxerit, dicite ei, quid diu mecum de causa Anglorum cogitans tractaui; uidelicet, quia fana idolorum destrui in eadem gente minime debeant; sed ipsa, quae in eis sunt, idola destruantur; aqua benedicta fiat, in eisdem fanis aspergatur, altaria construantur, reliquiae ponantur. Quia, si fana eadem bene constructa sunt, necesse est, ut a cultu daemonum in obsequio ueri Dei debeant commutari; ut dum gens ipsa eadem fana sua non uidet destrui, de corde errorem deponat, et Deum uerum cognoscens ac adorans, ad loca, quae consueuit, familiarius concurrat. Et quia boues solent in sacrificio daemonum multos occidere, debet eis etiam hac de re aliqua sollemnitas immutari; ut die dedicationis, uel natalicii sanctorum martyrum, quorum illic reliquiae ponuntur, tabernacula sibi circa easdem ecclesias, quae ex fanis commutatae sunt, de ramis arborum faciant, et religiosis conuiuiis sollemnitatem celebrent; nec diabolo iam animalia immolent, et ad laudem Dei in esu suo animalia occidant, et donatori omnium de satietate sua gratias referant; ut dum eis aliqua exterius gaudia reseruantur, ad interiora gaudia consentire facilius ualeant. Nam duris mentibus simul omnia abscidere impossibile esse non dubium est, quia et is, qui summum locum ascendere nititur, gradibus uel passibus, non autem saltibus eleuatur. Sic Israelitico populo in Aegypto Dominus se quidem innotuit; sed tamen eis sacrificiorum usus, quae diabolo solebat exhibere, in culto proprio reseruauit, ut eis in suo sacrificio animalia immolare praeciperet; quatinus cor mutantes, aliud de sacrificio amitterent, aliud retinerent; ut etsi ipsa essent animalia, quae offerre consueuerant, uero tamen Deo haec et non idolis immolantes, iam sacrificia ipsa non essent. Haec igitur dilectionem tuam praedicto fratri necesse est dicere, ut ipse in praesenti illic positus perpendat, qualiter omnia debeat dispensare. Deus te incolumem custodiat, dilectissime fili.

Data die XV. Kalendarum Iuliarum, imperante domino nostro Mauricio Tiberio piissimo Augusto anno XIX, post consulatum eiusdem domini anno XVIII, indictione IIII.

THE aforesaid messengers being departed, the holy father, Gregory, sent after them letters worthy to be preserved in memory, wherein he plainly shows what care he took of the salvation of our nation. The letter was as follows -

"To his most beloved son, the Abbot Mellitus; Gregory, the servant of the servants of God. We have been much concerned, since the departure of our congregation that is with you, because we have received no account of the success of your journey. When, therefore, Almighty God shall bring you to the most reverend Bishop Augustine, our brother, tell him what I have, upon mature deliberation on the affair of the English, determined upon, viz., that the temples of the idols in that nation ought not to be destroyed; but let the idols that are in them be destroyed; let holy water be made and sprinkled in the said temples, let altars be erected, and relics placed. For if those temples are well built, it is requisite that they be converted from the worship of devils to the service of the true God; that the nation, seeing that their temples are not destroyed, may remove error from their hearts, and knowing and adoring the true God, may the more familiarly resort to the places to which they have been accustomed. And because they have been used to slaughter many oxen in the sacrifices to devils, some solemnity must be exchanged for them on this account, as that on the day of the dedication, or the nativities of the holy martyrs, whose relics are there deposited, they may build themselves huts of the boughs of trees, about those churches which have been turned to that use from temples, and celebrate the solemnity with religious feasting, and no more offer beasts to the Devil, but kill cattle to the praise of God in their eating, and return thanks to the Giver of all things for their sustenance; to the end that, whilst some gratifications are outwardly permitted them, they may the more easily consent to the inward consolations of the grace of God. For there is no doubt that it is impossible to efface everything at once from their obdurate minds; because he who endeavours to ascend to the highest place, rises by degrees or steps, and not by leaps. Thus the Lord made Himself known to the people of Israel in Egypt; and yet He allowed them the use of the sacrifices which they were wont to offer to the Devil, in his own worship; so as to command them in his sacrifice to kill beasts, to the end that, changing their hearts, they might lay aside one part of the sacrifice, whilst they retained another; that whilst they offered the same beasts which they were wont to offer, they should offer them to God, and not to idols; and thus they would no longer be the same sacrifices. This it behooves your affection to communicate to our aforesaid brother, that he, being there present, may consider how he is to order all things. God preserve you in safety, most beloved son.

"Given the 17th of June, in the nineteenth year of the reign of our lord, the most pious emperor, Mauritius Tiberius, the eighteenth year after the consulship of our said lord. The fourth indiction."

[status: unverified copy]




(Contributed by Tarrin Wills.)


Main text: Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum

Attributes: Sacrifice Temple Idol

Named things:

Text sections: Bede, HEGA ch. I 30


Log in

This service is only available to members of the relevant projects, and to purchasers of the skaldic volumes published by Brepols.
This service uses cookies. By logging in you agree to the use of cookies on your browser.