St. Augustine’s Monastery

If St. Augustine’s Monastery possessed no other claim to attention than that of having been the burial-place of the great English Apostle of Christianity, it were amply sufficient to induce the visitor to the glorious cathedral to pass on from thence to a space beyond the walls, along the northern side of the Dover road, and there muse over the powers that are from time to time given into the hands of a single man to influence to countless generations the thoughts, feelings, manners, customs, in a word, the spiritual and temporal existence of a great people. Yes, it was here that, after successes that can fall to the lot of few, even of the greatest men, Augustine reposed in 604: he found England essentially a heathen country; he left it if not essentially a Christian one, still so far advanced to a knowledge of the mighty truths of the Gospel, as to render it all but certain that their final supremacy was a mere question of time. The monastery was founded by him on ground granted by Ethelbert, and dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul. It was Dunstan who, some centuries later, with honourable, reverence for Augustine’s memory, re-dedicated the establishment to those Apostles and to St. Augustine. Not long after that time Augustine’s body was removed into the Cathedral. We fear the pious monks of the monastery must have felt their stock of charity severely tried on the occasion, if we may judge from their known sentiments towards their brethren of Christ Church, who were thus honoured at their expense.

There are some curious passages in what we may call the mutual history of the two establishments. As they both sprang from one source, Augustine, and were of course founded with the same views, they looked on each other, as usual, with feelings that must charm the hearts of those who think it rather creditable than otherwise to be “good haters.” Their disputes began early; “neither,” says Lambarde, “do I find that ever they agreed after, but were evermore at continual brawling between themselves, either suing before the King or appealing to the Pope, and that for matters of more stomach [pride] than importance; as, for example, whether the Abbot of St. Augustine’s should be consecrated or blessed in his own church or in the other’s; whether he ought to ring his bells at service before the other had rung theirs; whether he and his tenants owed suit to the bishop’s court, and such like.” At the dissolution Henry VIII. took a fancy to the monastery, and made it one of his own palaces. Queen Mary subsequently granted it to Cardinal Pole; but on her death it again reverted to the crown; and Elizabeth on one occasion, in 1573, kept her court in it. Subsequently Lord Wotton became the possessor, whose widow entertained Charles II. whilst on his way to take possession of the throne; the note then given to the building may have caused it to be known as Lady Wotton’s Palace, which designation is still in use.

We may gather from these facts that the monastery in its days of prosperity must have been an unusually magnificent structure; and, great as have been the injuries since experienced, both in the shape of actual destruction and in the disgraceful treatment of what little was still permitted to exist, no one can look upon the architectural character or extent of the pile, as evidenced in the remains, without being impressed with the same conviction (Fig. 570). The space covered by the different buildings extended to sixteen acres. Of these the gateway (Fig. 571), a superb piece of architecture, is preserved essentially entire.