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Gregory the Great and the Pagan Shrines of Kent

From: Journal of Late Antiquity
Volume 1, Number 2, Fall 2008
pp. 353-369 | 10.1353/jla.0.0018

Abstract

Abstract:

This study challenges the prevailing scholarly opinion that pope Gregory I’s instruction to transform the pagan shrines of Kent into Christian churches was a direct countermand to his earlier missive that the shrines should be destroyed. By exploring Gregory’s multi-faceted understanding of conversion and considering the depth and nuance of his pastoral strategies, it argues that the initial letter to Ethelbert, king of Kent, identified the destruction of shrines as an example of the type of behavior that would be expected of a Christian monarch, but did not reflect a carefully constructed strategy for conversion. Thus, the letter to Ethelbert was designed for the spiritual edification of the king himself, whereas the subsequent epistle to Mellitus provided a clarification of Gregory’s plan for the pagan shrines and more fully reflected the pope’s syncretistic strategies for the conversion of non-Christian populations. In this way, both letters signify aspects of Gregory’s rich pastoral consciousness and are more consistent with each other than is generally understood.