Gregory was born into a wealthy aristocratic family in Rome in 540. He became a government official but then changed the course of his life, giving much of his wealth to the poor, and founding a number of monasteries, including one in Rome which he entered himself as an ordinary monk. Later, he was ordered by the Pope to serve as ambassador to the imperial court at Constantinople. Returning to Rome in 585 he re-entered his former monastery, this time as abbot. One day, seeing in the Roman market place some slaves from the island of Britannia who were described as ‘Angli’, he made his famous remark, ‘Non Angli sed angeli’ – ‘Not Angles but angels’, a reference to their comely appearance. He was elected Pope in 590 and his papacy was marked by strength and firmness of character combined with great gentleness, personal humility (he referred to himself as ‘servant of the servants of God’) and commitment to works of charity, preaching and pastoral care. He took a number of initiatives, one of which was his directing St Augustine to undertake the mission which brought Latin Christianity to Britannia in 597 (eventually displacing the native Celtic Church). He encouraged liturgical music, especially the species of plainsong which bears his name – the Gregorian chant. He died in 604. His ‘day’ is 3rd September.
A Word in Season