Church seeks future in glorious past

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Celebrations planned to mark the 1,400th anniversary of St Augustine's mission to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity should not be seen as an "exercise in ecclesiastical nostalgia", according to the Church of England.

In 597, St Augustine landed in Kent on a papal mission to reconvert England to Christianity. After the end of Roman rule, British Christianity was confined to remote Celtic churches. Now, church and state are combining for a year of conservation and celebration.

In a potentially controversial move, fragments of bone and brain tissue believed to be of St Thomas a Becket will go on display in an exhibition devoted to the Canterbury martyr.The relics were tested five years ago and dated as 12th-century. Pilgrimages to and from Rome and linking early Christian sites in Britain are also planned.

The state's role, through English Heritage, is comparatively straightforward. Its chairman, Sir Jocelyn Stevens, yes- terday announced a pounds 10,000 project to clean and protect the medieval tiles on the floor of the Chapter House at Westminster Abbey. Some 117 special events are planned at English Heritage's ecclesiastical properties, ranging from the ruins of Lindisfarne Priory off the Northumbrian coast to Old Sarum, the Iron Age hill fort near Salisbury in Wiltshire.

The Dean of Norwich, the Very Rev Stephen Platten, rejected suggestions that the Church was burying its present woes in past glories. "It is the very reverse," he said. "The Church challenges the present with a message which remains as radical now as it was in the 6th century."

t For a free map of England's Christian Heritage, call 0171-973 3434.