Note: The Current’s editor was in London at the time of the lecture, so seized the opportunity to attend.
Dr. Richard Shaw, Barry’s Bay resident and Chairman of History at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College (SWC), gave the inaugural St. Augustine of Canterbury Feast Day lecture in collaboration with the English Catholic History Association (ECHA) at Princes Risborough, near London on May 27.
Dr. Shaw, internationally acknowledged as an expert in this area of medieval history and winner of the prestigious 2014 Eusebius Prize from the Journal of Ecclesiastical History, spoke to a full hall. His illustrated talk was entitled Bede, Augustine and the Gregorian Mission to England in the light of the earliest evidence. Using the latest research across a variety of disciplines, Dr. Shaw explained the Gregorian mission in early Christian England in its contemporary context.
The Venerable Bede (672 – 735) in his Ecclesiastical History recounts the arrival of Augustine on British shores in 597 on a mission to convert the people to Christianity. Even now, thirteen centuries later, the History continues to dominate historians’ understanding of events. Robert A. Markus, the late distinguished medieval and ecclesiastical historian, said, “Bede is the greatest master of integrating materials from disparate sources to produce coherent history.” Dr. Shaw set out to investigate Bede’s account given that sixth century sources were few and often unreliable. He noted that Bede interpreted events in light of his own eighth century assumptions even though Augustine’s mission to Britain had occurred almost 150 years earlier and the world had changed dramatically by Bede’s day.
Dr. Shaw, a graduate of Oxford University and the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto, described his forensic approach to historical research, consulting everything from archaeological finds to coins to jewellery to contemporary documents that were not available to Bede. Using modern methods, he analysed both sources extracted from Bede’s History as well as the alternative sources. He concluded that the picture that emerges is one which differs radically from the traditional one, revealing not only Kent’s connections with contemporary Gaul, but also its similarity to that world and society.
Dr. Shaw ended his lecture by saying,
We must never forget our task as historians to reconstruct the truth of the past. We are engaged in a search for truth.… Bede and Augustine — where they are now — would want the truth to be found and the truth to be told. Bede did the best he could with the materials he had available. It’s just that he had very few materials available and too few of these were really genuinely reliable authorities…. He would want us to go beyond his own limited account and seek the truth. And when we do … you will gain a new appreciation for Augustine. And not only for Augustine but also for other vital, significant, forgotten figures previously ignored.
Following the lecture, ECHA members questioned Dr. Shaw about his research. Medieval studies at the University of Toronto are highly-regarded internationally, so audience members were keen to hear about Dr. Shaw’s two upcoming books. ECHA members mingled with the visiting Canadians eager for information about SWC and Barry’s Bay. They were equally interested to peruse the SWC literature about the College that Dr. Shaw had made available. It may interest Valley readers to know that Barry’s Bay is now on the map for many British ecclesiastical historians.
Sheila Mahwood and Dr. Richard Shaw
Mrs. Sheila Mahwood, ECHA Organizer for Northampton Diocese and a member of the national organizing committee, gave the vote of thanks after Dr. Shaw’s talk. She said this was the opening event of their year. Mahwood said that ECHA, a registered non-profit heritage organization regularly hosts events across all the dioceses of England and Wales for its members and the general public to learn from celebrated experts and visit places of interest such as abbeys, shrines and ruins.
After the event, Dr. Shaw told The Current,
I was very happy to have been invited to give the inaugural lecture in this important new series of talks. It was extremely gratifying to have such large numbers there. I must express my deep gratitude to the organizers who did a terrific job in putting this event together.