Today is the feast day of St Mellitus, who died on this day in 624.
Mellitus was a member of the Gregorian mission sent to England to convert the then-pagan Anglo-Saxons to Christianity at the turn of the sixth and seventh centuries (he was the recipient of the letter from Pope Gregory I known as the epistola ad Mellitum). He became the first Bishop of London in 604, and, incidentally, the third Archbishop of Canterbury in 619. The first St Paul’s Cathedral was built during his Bishopric of London in 604, and destroyed by fire in 675 (*). As the Venerable Bede put it, in his “Ecclesiastical History of the English People”:
“In the Year of our Lord 604, Augustine, Archbishop of Britain, ordained … Mellitus to preach to the province of the East Saxons … . … [W]hen this province … received the word of truth, by the preaching of Mellitus, King Ethelbert built the church of St Paul the Apostle, in the city of London, where he and his successors should have their episcopal see … ”.
Interestingly, Mellitus was sent into exile from London shortly after the construction of the cathedral, in 616, when the then-Christian King Sebert died, and the City and kingdom temporarily reverted to paganism. Again as Bede put it:
“In the year of our Lord 616 … the death of Sabert [Sebert], king of the East Saxons … left three sons, still pagans, to inherit his … crown. They immediately began openly to give themselves up to idolatry, … and … granted free licence to their subjects to serve idols. And when they saw the bishop [Mellitus] … celebrating Mass … , filled, as they were, with folly and ignorance, they said unto him … ‘We will not enter into that font, because we … do not stand in need of it, and yet we will be refreshed by that bread’. And being … earnestly admonished by him, that this could by no means be done, nor would any one be admitted to partake of the sacred Oblation without the holy cleansing, … they said, filled with rage, ‘If you will not comply with us in so small a matter as that which we require, you shall not stay in our province’. And they drove him out … and his company … from their kingdom [Essex]. [And] King Eadbald … was not able to restore the bishop to his church against the will and consent of the pagans”.
(*) The second St Paul’s, “The Church of Paulesbyri”, was built during the Bishopric of Erkenwald, between 675-85, and destroyed by the Vikings in 961.
The third was built in 961, and destroyed by fire in 1087.