What is a Shrine?
A shrine is a church, or other sacred place, visited by pilgrims for a particular devotion, approved by the bishop. In particular it may have the body of a saint or part of the saint’s body – a relic.
At St Augustine’s we have a relic of St Augustine, a small piece of bone from his body. It is venerated at pilgrim Masses and on special occasions to show reverence to the Apostle of the English, who intercedes for us in Heaven, and as a physical link to his life on earth one and a half millennia ago.
St Augustine landed very close to this site in AD 597, along the coast to the west, beyond where the cliffs end, at a place called Ebbsfleet. There is a golf course near there now, named after St Augustine. In 1884 a stone cross was put up to mark the spot where St Augustine is thought to have landed, and the cross is still there.
The benefactor and builder of this church, Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, had a great devotion to St Augustine as his patron saint. He wrote in a letter that this church was near where “Blessed Austin landed nearby,” and he dedicated this church to St Augustine.
Pilgrimage is a journey to a holy place – and can use many forms of transport! It is done for many different reasons: in celebration, as penance, as a holiday, or with another purpose. The most famous pilgrims are probably those in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, and today modern pilgrims make the well-known journey to Santiago in Spain.
Many pilgrims come here too. Groups come from near and far to spend a day or an afternoon here, and often take the opportunity to explore Ramsgate, Thanet, and east Kent. Canterbury, nearby, ranked alongside Rome, Santiago, and Jerusalem for European pilgrimage until the Reformation, and one of the many pilgrim sites there was the original shrine of St Augustine in the abbey he founded outside the city walls.