One day, the story goes, Gregory was walking through the Roman slave market when he noticed three fair, golden-haired boys. He asked their nationality and was told that they were Angles. "They are well named," said Gregory, "for they have angelic faces." He asked where they came from, and when told "De Ire," he exclaimed, "De ira (from wrath)—yes, verily, they shall be saved from God's wrath and called to the mercy of Christ. What is the name of the king of that country?" "Aella." "Then must Alleluia be sung in Aella's land." Some modern historians have viewed the tale skeptically, claiming that the serious-minded Gregory would not have descended to punning. However, it seems unlikely that anyone would have taken the trouble to invent this delightful anecdote. Gregory was so touched by the boys' beauty, and by pity for their ignorance, that he resolved to go himself to preach the Gospel in their land. To this end, he obtained the consent of the Pope, and journeyed northwards with several monks. When the Roman people heard of this, they raised such an outcry at the loss of their favorite cleric that Pope Pelagius sent envoys to bring the party back. Later, when Gregory became pope, the evangelization of Britain became one of his most cherished projects. . . .
Of all his work, that which lay nearest his heart was the conversion of England. It is probable that the first move towards the sending of a Roman mission to England was made by Englishmen themselves. News reached Gregory that they had appealed to the bishops of Gaul for preachers, and their appeals had been ignored. In 596 he began to make far-reaching plans. His first act was to order the purchase of some English slaves, boys of seventeen or eighteen, who might be educated in a monastery in Italy for service in their own land. Since he wished the work of conversion to proceed forthwith, from his own monastery of St. Andrew he chose a band of forty monks to proceed to England under the leadership of their prior, the saintly Augustine.
And don't forget:
Blessed Christopher Bales was born in Durham, England, and educated in Rome, Italy and Rheims, France. He was ordained in Douai, France in 1587. He returned to England in 1588 to minister to covert Catholics and used the name Christopher Evers. He was arrested and martyred (hanged, drawn, and quartered) on March 4, 1590 on Fleet Street in London for the crime of being a priest. He was beatified on December 15, 1929 by Pope Pius XI.
When he was tried under the Elizabeth statute making it an act of treason for a Catholic priest to be present in England, he asked the judge, "This only do I want to know, whether Saint Augustine [of Canterbury] sent here by [Pope] St. Gregory [the Great] was a traitor or not."
The answer: No.
His follow-up question: "Why then do you condemn me to death as a traitor? I am sent hither by the same see: and for the same purpose as he was. Nothing is charged against me that could not be charged against the saint."
They condemned him to death anyway. Blessed Christopher Bales spoke to the crowd on Fleet Street, proclaiming that his only treason--the government placed a placard on the gibbet proclaiming him a traitor in favor of invasion--was his priesthood. Blessed Nicholas Horner and Blessed Alexander Blake, two laymen, were executed on the same day at different locations because they had assisted the condemned priest in some way.
Pope St. Gregory the Great, pray for us.
St. Augustine of Canterbury, pray for us.
Blessed Christopher Bales, pray for us.
Blessed Nicholas Horner, pray for us.
Blessed Alexander Blake, pray for us.