Pilgrims take easy route to Canterbury

Pilgrims following in the footsteps of St Augustine arrived in Canterbury yesterday in considerably less time and more comfort than their predecessor 1,400 years ealier.

Fifty ecumenical volunteers clambered out of their specially commissioned coaches, having taken one week to retrace the journey from Rome to Canterbury which took St Augustine an entire year in 597. They were met the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, and Cardinal Basil Hume, head of the Roman Catholic Church in England, at St Augustine's landing place at Hugin Green, near Ramsgate. The reception crowd also included Anglican, Roman Catholic, Methodist and Church of Scotland worshippers.

The celebrations marking the 1,400th anniversary of St Augustine's arrival in Kent to convert the English to Christianity will reach a climax today when the Prince of Wales attends a special service at Canterbury Cathedral.

The service will be a unique occasion in the history of English Christianity. The sixth-century Canterbury Gospels, a book believed to have been brought to England by St Augustine himself, has been transported from its home at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, to form a focal point of the celebrations. The book is normally only brought to Canterbury for the enthrone-ment of a new archbishop.

The presence of the Prince, who has sparked controversy with his outspoken opinions on religious faith, is seen by some as an attempt to heal the rift with the Church of England.

Dr Carey gave a sermon at a service in Canterbury's St Martin and St Paul Church, saying: "As today, so in the time of Bertha, a congregation met faithfully here to bear witness to Christ in the midst of a population that had either never had or had largely lost touch with their Christian roots.

"But as today, too, so in the time of Augustine, people came from afar to this city to share their faith and to spread the good news of Christ."

Earlier, Dr Carey opened a pounds 1m English Heritage museum. Among the exhibits are artefacts and manuscripts relating to the arrival of the saint which have never been viewed by the public. The museum is on the site of the ruined abbey, founded by St Augustine in 1898.

Each pilgrim was given two copies of St Mark's Gospel, one to study on the journey and the other to give away, as well as an olive branch to represent peace, when they left Rome. Their journey ends in Londonderry on 9 June.