Our college is named after one of the least known but most significant figures in the establishment of the church in London and Essex, St Mellitus, whose story is told in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History.
At the end of the 6th century, inspired by his growing awareness of the needs of this far-flung part of Europe, Pope Gregory the Great sent a group of missionaries to the island of Britain. There had been Christian churches on the island since at least the 4th century, but the land was still largely pagan.
This new mission was headed by Augustine, who was appointed the first Archbishop of Canterbury. In 601 AD Augustine sent back to Rome to ask for more help in evangelising the mainly pagan East Saxon tribes, and so Gregory sent more missionaries to help him, including Mellitus. Mellitus was probably a well-off Roman nobleman, whose devotion to Christ had led him to enter the monastic life and later become abbot of the Monastery of St. Andrew on the Coelian Hill in Rome, to which both St. Gregory and St. Augustine had belonged.
In 604, with the help of the Christian East Saxon King Saeberht, Mellitus was made the first bishop of the growing city of London. His jurisdiction also covered the land to the east - what we know as Essex, now covered by the diocese of Chelmsford.
As a result of the work of Mellitus and his friends, the church grew. Yet it was not without cost. After King Saeberht died, his sons reverted to pagan worship. Seeing Mellitus celebrate the Eucharist one day, they demanded to be given the bread, even though they had not the slightest commitment to Christ and his church. Mellitus refused it to them unless they were baptised; as a result, Mellitus was banished from the kingdom, spending the next few years in Kent and then Gaul (France). Mellitus was later recalled to Britain by Laurentius, Augustine’s successor in Canterbury, and after Laurentius’ death in 619, he was appointed as the third Archbishop of Canterbury.
Mellitus was a missionary bishop. Naming our college ‘St Mellitus College’ is not an act of antiquarian curiosity - it is laying claim to that same costly spirit of missionary love, the desire to see Christian churches growing and building for God’s kingdom across this region and beyond, and seeing theology in service of that aim. That spirit is as important to Christians in the pluralist 21st Century world as it was for their counterparts in the pagan 7th Century land of the East Saxons. So we pray:
God of grace and wisdom,
who called your servant Mellitus
to leave his home and proclaim your Word:
grant to all who belong to the college that bears his name
diligence for study, fervour for mission,
and perseverance for ministry,
that they might shine with your love and truth
in these dioceses and beyond,
for the sake of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.