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But which Saint Augustine is it?

The dedication of St Augustine's church in Norwich is problematic. Which saint was it originally dedicated to? There are two principal saints named Augustine in the Christian canon: St Augustine of Hippo, a North African bishop (died 430) venerated as one of the four Latin doctors of the Church for his hugely influential theological works Confessions and The City of God, and St Augustine of Canterbury, a late 6th-century missionary sent by Pope Gregory in Rome to convert the Anglo-Saxon tribes of Kent, and so regarded as the founder of the English Church.

It has long been assumed that St Augustine’s church is dedicated to St Augustine of Canterbury, who is certainly the more commonly commemorated saint of the two in English churches. This asssumption was made manifest in 1902 with the installation of a stained glass window in the north chancel aisle – now partly obscured behind the organ case – linking St Augustine of Canterbury with St Felix of Dunwich, regarded as the founder of the Church
in East Anglia.

A rare piece of evidence from an earlier period is unfortunately inconclusive. A set of accounts kept by the overseer of the nearby Lathes farm, notes that Saturday 30 April 1429 was a rest day for ‘ye dedicacyon of seynt Austynys [Augustine’s] chirch’. Unfortunately, the date does not correspond with the feast day of either St Augustine of Hippo or St Augustine of Canterbury. Dedication days were, in any case, often celebrated on the anniversary of the consecration of a church to God, rather than on the titular saint’s feast day. The feast day of St Augustine of Canterbury (26 May) is mentioned in the farm’s accounts, but so are many other saints’ days: the overseer’s terms of employment allowed him with 39 days paid holiday a year to observe such
religious festivals.

In this context it may be worth noting that St Augustine’s church in Norwich is the only pre-Reformation church in Norfolk with this particular dedication, suggesting that neither of the two principal saints named Augustine was a popular saint in Norfolk and this unique occurrence may therefore have had been because of some especially strong association with one of the saints. Pre-Reformation parish church dedications to St Augustine are not common anywhere in England, though they are regularly found in the names of secular and quasi-religious institutions, such as religious and trade guilds, charitable confraternities and sick houses, as well as the names of religious communities of regular canons of the Augustinian Order, also known as Austin friars, the rules of whose order is based on the teachings of St Augustine of Hippo. Their now lost friary in King Street was, for example, dedicated to ‘God, St Mary the Virgin and St Augustine’. By the late Middle Ages there were at least three religious houses in Norwich dedicated to
St Augustine, as well as a guild of shoemakers and a confraternity – ‘the poor men’s gild of St Augustine’s’ – possibly associated with charitable work in this parish.

The earliest documentary evidence of a church known as St Augustine in Norwich is found in a letter of 1163 from William de Turbe, bishop of Norwich, to Clement, prior of Llanthony Secunda Priory in Gloucester. The original Llanthony Priory was founded in north Monmouthshire (present-day Gwent) in the early 12th century. Shortly afterwards the monks adopted the Augustinian Order, which had arrived in England a little before 1100. The rules of the Order allowed its monks more freedom than, for example, the Benedictines to work outside their enclosed communities in churches and sick houses. During an uprising in south Wales in 1135 the monks of Llanthony Priory fled to England and were given land by Baron Miles of Gloucester to build a second priory, named Llanthony Secunda, on the outskirts of Gloucester. According to Bishop William’s letter two brother priests, Wlfhrac and Herbertus, had at some unspecified time gifted the church of St Augustine in Norwich (ecclesiam beati Augustini in Norwico) to the canons of Llanthony Secunda, possibly thirty or so years earlier during the priory’s troubles in Wales. At this period, it was not uncommon for churches to be held as personal property by rich individuals or noble families. Brothers Wlfhrac and Herbertus (the medieval Latin seems to indicate that they were brothers in blood as well as religion) were perhaps from a high-ranking Norman family, three or four generation removed from the followers of William the Conqueror. Bishop William’s letter confirmed the gift and allowed the monks of Llanthony Secunda to observe the rules of the Augustinian Order here, provided they did nothing against the rules of the Norwich Diocese. It is therefore possible that the church acquired its name by association with the Augustinian monks who said mass and took confession here – followers of a religious order whose rule was based on the teachings of St Augustine of Hippo. This would make St Augustine’s church one of the earliest Augustinian establishments in Norfolk – their priory at Walsingham was not founded until 1169, while their friary in King Street was not established until the late 13th century.

Correspondence between successive bishops of Norwich and priors of Llanthony Secunda on the right of presentation (i.e. who appointed the rector) at St Augustine’s continued throughout the 13th century. In 1209 the bishop of Norwich, John de Gray, again confirmed. the appropriation of St Augustine’s by the Austin Canons of Llanthony Secunda. In 1251, the prior of Llanthony Secunda Priory is described as the persona (i.e. the parson or beneficed priest) of St Augustine’s church. The prior’s advowson – or right of presentation of a church’s benefice or living – was confirmed again in 1259, suggesting, perhaps, that the matter had become a matter of dispute which required clarification. By 1291, however, the advowson seems to have passed to the priors of Norwich Cathedral Priory, who held it until 1550 when it passed to the Dean and Chapter of Norwich Cathedral. In purely financial terms income from the church would have been negligible. The parish was rated among the poorest in Norwich. The papal taxation records of 1254 known as the Valuation of Norwich valued the parish at just 6s 8d per annum (equivalent to about £180 today).

Immediately after Norwich Cathedral Priory appropriated
St Augustine’s church from Llanthony Secunda Priory in the late 13th century it may have been ministered by one of the bishop’s chaplains rather than a rector. An enrolled deed of 1291 names one John de Birston, chaplain, as having been granted land with a barn in the parish, which reminds us that the parish, despite being within the newly erected city wall, was and remained for centuries essentially rural, especially to the west of the churchyard known as the Gildencroft. The grass here, when mown and dried for hay, was a valuable commodity. Norwich Consistory Court records show that successive rectors of the three adjoining parishes in Ultra Aquam –
St Augustine’s, St Clement’s and St Martin’s-at-Oak –
at various times disputed the right to the tithes due from this land. The first rector whose name we know was one John de Blickling, who seems to have been granted the living here in about 1303.

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Late 19th-century
stained glass window, depicting St Augustine of Canterbury (left) and
St Felix of Dunwich, located in the north chancel aisle of
St Augustine's church, Norwich

































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