Addendum to Kent (section two)
Letter of Æthelberht II to Archbishop Boniface
Boniface, patron saint of Germany, was actually an Englishman – a West Saxon originally called Wynfrith. Having resigned the archdiocese of Mainz, he was killed in 754, by pagans, whilst on missionary work in Frisia.
“To the most blessed lord, deservedly adorned with pontifical robes, Archbishop Wynfrith, called Boniface, Æthelberht, king of Kent, greetings in the Lord of Lords.
A few years ago the venerable Abbess Bugga, after she had visited the sacred places in the city of Rome for the purpose of prayer, and returning thither had reached her fatherland and the monastery of consecrated women, which formerly she governed well under the law of the Church – when at her invitation I came at once to speech with her, among the things pleasant to hear, this especially she took care to convey to my ears, that thou hadst given her permission to speak freely in thy gracious and lovable presence of her pressing necessities, while you were both in Rome, and were zealous in frequently and wearing away the threshold of the holy Apostles' shrine. She went on straightway to tell how, reminded as it were by the ties of our blood relationship, she likewise addressed thy fraternity with humblest prayers as a suppliant on my behalf, that just as she, while present, merited to be imbued with thy salutary precepts and strengthened with the blessing of thy prayers, so too might I, though absent and unknown to thee in the body, yet present in the spirit, be enriched by thine accustomed beneficence, with this same gift so necessary to me. When she said that thou hadst promised on thy undoubted word to do this, I confess truly that I cannot easily set forth in words, how much pleasure and consolation I received therefrom. And on this account I was the more delighted because such precious gifts sprang suddenly from a hope that did not expect fulfilment.
Wherefore, it seems alike useful and proper for me to address thy holiness, distinguished far and wide, by the exchange of friendly letters or the words of faithful messengers. And this I think I can scarcely do better and more efficaciously at any time than now, when holy men from your excellency are present, who have been sent by you across hither to Britain, as prudent and faithful messengers, and deserve to return as soon as possible with God's aid to your gracious sight and presence. Hence it seemed to me best to send the bearer of this letter, by name Æthelhun, in religion a monk, with your men on a safer and surer journey, and to forward through him my greetings and requests to your love. And first of all we declare that we all in common pay fervent thanks to the Omnipotent God, who has so bestowed on you the favour of His mercy as to convert through the words and efforts of your preaching an innumerable multitude of the Gentiles, miserably deceived by the old error of idolatry, to the rule of Christian faith. Wherefore, we still hope and desire many things through the help of God, assured that He, who has begun to work through you, will not cease to accomplish still greater things from day to day.
With the bearer of these lines my devotion has directed to your reverence some gifts accompanied by great love, a silver bowl lined with gold, weighing three pounds and a half, and two cloaks. These presents we have sent to you with no intention or expectation of receiving them for any earthly reward or temporal recompense. But instead, as is much the more necessary for me, I humbly beg, from the depths of my heart, that, since the days are evil, and there multiply daily various unexpected difficulties in this world full of scandal, thou shouldst deign to aid us with the strong and constant assistance of thy prayers. And may thy beloved and respected authority be mindful always to urge to this same course others whom it can influence either by command or suggestion, not merely while thou hearest that I am still in this mortal flesh, but also after my death, should I deserve to have thee as my survivor.
Now that these matters have been thus briefly and summarily touched upon, one thing besides I would have you secure for me, which, from what has been told me, I do not think will be difficult for you to obtain; I mean two falcons whose skill and courage consist in freely attacking cranes, seizing them and bringing them to earth. We make of you this request, to secure and send the birds, because, in our country, that is to say in Kent, very few falcons of this kind are found, which will produce such good brood, and can be trained and subdued to quickness and courage in the aforementioned art.
Finally, at the conclusion of this letter, I beg thee to answer; and in thy letter deign to tell me, if these things which I have addressed to thee, have come safe.
May the divine goodness grant thee a long life to pray for us.”
Translation by Edward Kylie
Which monastery Bugga presided over is not certain. Boniface corresponded with an Abbess Bugga and, indeed, her mother, Abbess Eangyth. In the case of Eangyth's daughter, Bugga is short for Heahburg. If the Abbess Bugga mentioned by Æthelberht is one and the same as Heahburg, and Boniface's correspondence suggests she is, then the popular notion equating Bugga to Eadburg, abbess of Minster-in-Thanet, who features in a charter of 748 (S91), would seem to be incorrect.