March 26, 668: Theodore of Tarsus consecrated archbishop of Canterbury

The first archbishop of Canterbury was Augustine, the leader of the party of Roman monks who landed in Kent in 597 to convert the English. The next four (Laurence, Mellitus, Justus, Honorius), were also monks sent from Rome in the missions of 597 and 601. The first English archbishop was Deusdedit (655-664), about whom we know almost nothing. After Deusdedit's death the see of Canterbury was vacant for three years -- a successor, Wigheard, was finally elected and sent to Rome for consecration, but Wigheard died in Rome of another plague. This time, it was the pope in Rome (Vitalian) who appointed a replacement directly: his first choice, Hadrian, abbot of a monastery near Naples, turned down the post but recommended the man who finally did take the job, the remarkable Theodore of Tarsus.

Theodore was a monk living in Rome, but born in Tarsus (home of St Paul, now in southeastern Turkey) in 602. He was probably a student at Antioch (a city bilingual in Greek and Syriac). He also spent time in Constantinope, among the greatest scholars of the age. His learning would have been astounding in a great cultural centre, much more so in a backwater like seventh-century England. He and Hadrian (who came to England a year after his friend) established a school at Canterbury which attracted crowds of students, including the poet Aldhelm, and from later Canterbury texts it seems they became very conversant not only with Latin but with Greek, and the opinions of Greek church fathers as well as better-known Latin ones.

Theodore was active in other realms as well, filling vacancies in bishoprics, enforcing orthodoxy in practices and appointments, and summoning national synods, or church councils, in the 670s. Since "England" was really a group of smaller kingdoms at this point, as far as the secular powers were concerned these were international -- clerics from the various kingdoms attended, and at his Synod of Hatfield in 679 was also witnessed by the kings of Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia and Kent -- Wessex probably absent only because it was still pagan. Theodore died in 690, after over twenty active years as archbishop of Canterbury, a post he took up when he was almost seventy.