Baring-Gould’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Adrian, Archbishop of Canterbury

Article

(A.D. 709)

[Anglican and some of the German Martyrologies. Life in Bede, Eccles. Hist., lib. iv., c. i, 2 ; lib. v. c. 20.]

“Deusdedit,” says the Venerable Bede, “the sixth Bishop of the church of Canterbury, died on the 14th July, 665. The see then became vacant for some considerable time, until the priest Wighard, a man skilled in ecclesiastical discipline, of the English race, was sent to Rome by King Egbert (of Kent), and Oswy, King of the Northum- brians, with a request that he might be ordained Bishop of the Church of England ; sending at the same time presents to the Apostolic Pope, and many vessels of gold and silver. Arriving at Rome, where Vitalian presided at that time over the Apostolic see, and having made known to the aforesaid Pope the occasion of his journey, he was not long after snatched away, with almost all his companions that went with him, by a pestilence which happened at that time.

“But the Apostolic Pope, having consulted about that affair, made diligent inquiry for some one to send to the Archbishop of the English Churches. There was then in the Niridian monastery, which is not far from the city of Naples, an abbot called Adrian, by nation an African, well versed in holy writ, experienced in monastic and ecclesiastical discipline, and excellently skilled in both Greek and Latin. The Pope, sending for him, commanded him to accept the bishopric, and repair to Britain; he answered that he was unworthy of so great a dignity, but said he would name another, whose learning and age were fitter for the ecclesiastical office. And having pro- posed to the Pope a certain monk, belonging to a neigh- bouring monastery of virgins, whose name was Andrew, he was by all that knew him, judged worthy of a bishopric; but bodily infirmity prevented his being advanced to the episcopal office. Then again Adrian was pressed to accept the bishopric, but he desired a respite for a time, to see whether he could find another fit to be ordained bishop.

“There was at that time, in Rome, a monk called Theodore, well-known to Adrian, bom at Tarsus, in Cilicia, a man well instructed in worldly and divine literature, as also in Greek and Latin ; of known probity of life, and venerable for age, being sixty-six years old. Adrian offered him to the Pope to be ordained bishop, and prevailed; but upon these conditions, that he should conduct him into Britain, because he had already travelled through France twice upon several occasions, and was, therefore, better acquainted with the way, and was, moreover, sufficiently provided with men of his own; as also that, being his fellow labourer in doctrine, he might take special care that Theodore should not, according to the custom of the Greeks, introduce anything contrary to the true faith into the Church where he presided. Theodore, being ordained sub-deacon, waited four months for his hair to grow, that it might be shorn into the shape of a crown; for he had before the tonsure of Saint PauU the Apostle, after the manner of the Easterns. He was ordained by Pope Vitalian, in the year of the Lord 668, on Sunday, the 26th of March, and on the 27th of May was sent with Adrian into Britain.

“They proceeded by sea to Marseilles, and thence by land to Aries, and having delivered to John, Archbishop of that city. Pope Vitalian’s letters of recommendation, were by him detained, till Ebroin, the king’s mayor of the palace, sent them a pass to go where they pleased. Having received the same, Theodore repaired to Agilbert, Bishop of Paris, and was by him kindly received, and long entertained. But Adrian went first to Emme, and then to Faro, Bishops of Sens and Meaux, and lived with them a considerable time ; for the hard winter had obliged them to rest where- ever they could. King Egbert, being informed by messen- gers, that the bishop they had asked of the Roman prelate was in the kingdom of France, sent thither his praefect, Redford, to conduct him ; who, being arrived there, with Ebroin’s leave, conveyed him to the port of Quentavic (S. Quentin) ; where, being indisposed, he made some stay, and as soon as he began to recover, sailed over into Britain. But Ebroin detained Adrian, suspecting that he went on some message from the Emperor to the kings of Britain, to the prejudice of the kingdom, of which he at that time took especial care; however, when he found that he really had no such commission, he discharged him, and per- mitted him to follow Theodore.

“As soon as he came, he received from him the monastery of Saint Peter the Apostle, where the Archbishops of Canterbury are usually buried ; for at his departure, the Apostolic Lord had ordered that Theodore should provide for him in his diocese, and give him a suitable place to Hve in with his followers.

“Theodore arrived in his church the second year after his consecration, on Sunday, May 27th. Soon after, he visited all the island, wherever the tribes of the Angles inhabited ; and everywhere attended and assisted by Adrian, he taught the right rule of life, and the canonical custom of celebrating Easter. This was the first Archbishop whom all the English Church obeyed. And forasmuch as both of them were well read in both sacred and secular literature, they gathered a crowd of disciples, and there flowed from them daily rivers of knowledge to water the hearts of their hearers; and, together with the books of Holy Writ, they also taught them the arts of ecclesiastical poetry, astronomy, and arithmetic. A testimony of which is, that there are still living at this day some of their scholars, who are as well versed in the Greek and Latin tongues as in their own, in which they were born. Nor were there ever happier times since the English came into Britain; for their kings, being brave men and good Christians, were a terror to all barbarous nations, and the minds of all men were bent upon the joys of the heavenly kingdom of which they had just heard; and all who desired to be instructed in sacred reading had masters at hand to teach them.”

Saint Adrian died A.D. 709, after having spent thirty-nine years in Britain. His tomb was famous for miracles wrought at it.

MLA Citation

  • Sabine Baring-Gould. “Saint Adrian, Archbishop of Canterbury”. Lives of the Saints, 1897. Saints.SQPN.com. 8 January 2014. Web. 23 September 2014. <>