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Ramsgate-in-Thanet, Early history.

Ramsgate-in-The Isle of Thanet (Thanatos) Early History. The awakening of Christendom in England.

Ramsgate: First landing place of St Augustine: "ffor there he arryued fyrft."

Thanet (Thanatos) has its own litle piece of unique history, almost as though this island, one known as Thanatos(the Isle of the Dead) was destined to become the Island of Mercy, with the awakening of Christendom taking place on its shores.
Ramsgate(Romansgate)takes its name from the Romans who landed here under Julius Caesar in c55 BC. The precise landing place was the natural harbour at Ebbsfleet, next to Cliffsend, described as a little creek or bay where "veffels ufed to harbour." Excavations in 2008 confirmed Richborough as the first established site of Roman landings by the Emperor Claudius's troops in AD 43. Richborough's Roman fort became known as the Roman gateway to Britain.
Four hundred years later, the Saxon Hengist landed and established the Royal House of Kent, it is his standard, the rearing white horse, that are still displayed on the arms of the county.
The Thanet historian John Lewis, writing c1736, records "Thanatos" from the earlier writings of W. Caxton and his "dyfcrycyon of Englonde." Here, the name "Thanatos" is seen as deriving from its being blessed with good soil and not having any serpents. A factor that is attributed to a blessing given by Saint Augustine:

"Thanatos, that is, Tenet, is an Ylonde befydes Kente, and have the name
Thanatos, of deth of Serpentes, for ther ben none. And the crthe therof
fleeth Serpents yborn into other londes. There is a noble Corn lond and
fruytful. Hit is fuppofed that this Ilonde was haalowed and blyffed of St.
Auftyn, the fyrft Doctour of Englyfthe Men, ffor there he arryued fyrft."2

With great effect did St Augustine give his blessing at this dawn of the awakening of Christendom in England, and which also brought with it the golden era of Anglo Saxon monastic Christendom. St Augustine was able to galvanise the Catholics who existed in the country in pockets and who had bravely maintained the faith during the many centuries of various upheavals.
Notice how John Lewis records the name as "Tenet," and which derives from the name of Thanatos, but also too from its beacon of lights for approaching ships; Tenet or 'Tanaties' being a celtic name for fire or bonfires. Lewis himself comments on this.3
Saint Augustine and his forty missionaries landed at Ebbsfleet in 597,(the place of landing later became known as Saint Mildred's rock); the arrival of Saint Augustine is recorded at the site known as Saint Augustine's Cross, in between Cliffsend and Ebbsfleet; next to Pegwell Bay. Monastic Christendom soon followed.
Saint Augustine was welcomed by King (Saint) Ethelbert, a great, great grandson of Hengist, and his French Catholic wife, Queen(Saint)Bertha. King Ethelbert is recorded as having converted to the faith immediately, and that he was baptized the following Whit Sunday. However, it is also said that he was already Catholic and that this had followed from a requirement of his marriage to Bertha, a French[Frankish] princess; she had brought a Bishop, Liudhard, with her on her marriage. Ethelbert had built a chapel for her.
This would account for the welcome that Augustine received, and Pope Gregory is thought to have made his decision to send Augustine and the missionaries with King Ethelbert's receptiveness in mind. Ethelbert allowed the monks to preach and to settle in Canterbury. St Augustine was the first Archbishop of Canterbury, and within a few months of him landing, ten thousand Kentish men and women had converted to the faith.
There is also the story of how Pope Gregory, a Benedictine, came across some English, "Angle" slaves in Rome. He noticed their good looks and inquired as to where they were from. When told they were Angles he commented "They be angels if they be converted." He sent Augustine the following year.
Saint Augustine was a Benedictine monk and he brought with him Benedictine Monasticism. No doubt King Ethelbert recognized the right ordering of life found in the monastic setting; life centres on God being foremost in a monk or a nuns life; the first commandment. The day is centred on this, with its balance of the Sacraments, prayers, devotions, work and study.
The monasteries finding great favour with the Anglo Saxon monarchs also derived from the monasteries being natural 'overseers' and helpers of a developing local community and which would invariably attach itself to the safety and tranquility of the monastic buildings and setting. Church schools and hospitals would be part of the developing setting as well as, of course, charitable almsgiving. The monastries would also be local employers for various people and trades.
Christendom, evolving during these early centuries of Christianity, sees the relevant laws and customs of a society accord with Catholic teaching and which, of course, reflect Our Lord's commandments and teachings. The Christian calendar, with its holy days, feast days and observances, structured society and were part of a whole framework of the faith which was both taught and caught in this environment; Christendom!
The Anglo Saxon nobility understood the faith; for them it was very personal and their understanding of the 'new' Benedictine Monasticism would have blended with the understanding of the faith that they already had. They would have been taught and would have understood the faith, first and foremost, in the context of salvation; their own and others, and that the life and teachings of Jesus, and His death, as shown clearly in the Gospels, were historical fact that took place in time those centuries earlier in fulfillment of that foretold in scripture. And that Our lord set in place His Catholic Church (Mt 16:18-19.)
A significant number of the Anglo Saxon nobilty consecrated themselves to God; and they showed a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Great portions of land were given by the Anglo Saxon Kings to the developing Church. England also realised, during this era, its great title of "Mary's Dowry." England was also known as the "great land of the Saints."
An example of the strength of the faith amongst the Benedictine nobility is found in Saint Eanswythe of Folkestone, granddaughter of King Ethelbert and Queen Bertha, she founded the first community of Christian women in this country at Folkestone; her monastery being built by her Father, King Eadbald. Eanswythe's mother Emma, as with her grandmother, was a French Catholic princess. The great devotion of the Benedictine nuns was:

"to return unceasing thanks to God for the great gift of the faith
bestowed upon their country"4

Meanwhile, Saint Domneva, another granddaughter of King Ethelbert and Queen Bertha, had founded a monastery at Minster near Ramsgate, her daughter, Saint Mildred, the Island's patron saint, became its second Abbess. She guided her community for thirty years and was known as a woman of Wisdom and of peace. It was during this time that the grant of lands given by King's Ethelbert to the Church had increased to include one half of Thanet! This means that at one time one half of Thanet was monastic land.
The feast day of St Mildred of Thanet (since 1388) is July 13th. There was, of course, a strong spiritual life in the monastic communities, which were also centres of learning. Thanet also gained some material prosperity from the natural harbour at Ebbsfleet being a refuge for ships. From here, grain from the "good soil" of Thanet could be transported to London. Charters from this period show that the monastery at Minster both built and owned ships. 5
Minster was the mother house of the Island's monastic community, standing on what is today the site of Saint Mary's church. The mother house was consecrated to the Blessed Virgin Mary by Saint Theodore in 670AD and by this time the Thanet community was itself involved in supporting missionary activity overseas.
The missionary activity had continued at home too, for example, Saint Ethelburga, daughter of King Ethelbert and Queen Bertha, had, together with her husband, Edwin, whom she converted to Christianity, converted his Kingdom of Northumbria. Later in life, Ethelburga is found fleeing back to Kent, escaping from persecuting armies. She built a monastery at Lyminge, her birthplace.
Thanet prospered under its Anglo Saxon monastic heritage, as did England itself. The suppression of the monasteries, under Henry VIII, brought about the changes to the religious and societal landscape.

1 http://www.bbc.co.uk/kent/content/articles/2006/05/15/Thanet_isle_of_death_feature.shtml
2 The History And Antiquities as well as Ecclfiaftical as Civil, of The Ifle of Tenet, in Kent. By John Lewis, M.A.
Second Edition1736. Volume 1 p2 (available from Michael's Book Shop, King Street, Ramsgate.)
3 Ibid
4 OSB CTS 1915
5Minster Abbey: A short historical & architectural guide by The Benedictine Nuns St Mildred's Abbey.

Below, St Mildred of Thanet and a very old part of Minster Abbey.

Below, St Augustine's Cross, near Cliffsend, commemorating his landing place.

Saint Augustine's cross is in between Cliffsend and Ebbsfleet (next to St Augustine's Golf club) on the way to Minster; it is also close to the new road that links up to the Thanet Way.
Erected in 1886, the monument is a great commemorative landmark and very grateful we should be that it is there. Those who have seen it, however, will not help noticing that it has its own peculiarity in that the landing date of St Augustine, and his forty missionaries, is given as AD 596, I am not sure why this is since all historical records and accounts give it as AD 597.
The commemorative writing on the monument, given in both Latin and English, documents the great landing, it is very difficult to decipher in the above photo, but the monument is well worth a visit for those who have not yet been.

Below, early maps of Thanet (Thanatos).

And (below) a later map; the Wantsum Channel has clearly silted up.

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