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“Not Angles, but Angels”

Posted in Historical articles, History, Religion on Tuesday, 22 February 2011

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When Pope Gregory I, better known as Gregory the Great, decided to send Augustine on his famous and historic ‘Gregorian mission’ to Britannia, he may have been prompted to do so by an encounter in the Roman market place, when he saw some Saxon fair-haired, fair-skinned slaves. On asking about their origin, he was told they were Angles, whereupon he made a Latin pun which translates as “not Angles, but angels”.

Angles, Picture, image, illustration

Pope Gregory I sees Angles in the slave market in Rome, by Pat Nicolle

This papal anecdote has come down to us from Bede’s Historia, and that great scholar referred to his people as the ‘English’ thereafter, as did subsequent generations. There are, of course, other reasons for the mission, and King Aethelberht of Kent may even have initiated it, but this famous and witty anecdote is commonly regarded as the best explanation for Pope Gregory’s decision to take Christianity to the Angles, or Angels as he called them.

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