May 26th

St Philip Neri

Saint Of The Day

Priest, reformer and founder. The son of a lawyer, Philip Neri was born in Florence in 1515. He was educated by the Dominicans before being apprenticed to an uncle's mercantile business. At 17 he went to Rome where he became a tutor in the house of a nobleman, wrote poetry, and studied theology and philosophy. From 1538 he formed a brotherhood of laymen who met together to pray and work with pilgrims and the sick. He spent much of his time at night praying in the catacomb of St Sebastian. In 1544 he is said to have had a mystical experience which permanently affected his physical heart.

Philip was ordained in 1551. He went to live at the clergy house at San Girolamo where he soon made a name as a confessor. An oratory was built over the church where religious addresses and discussions took place and work for the sick and needy was organised.

Musical services were also held here, consisting of a new composition on a religious theme sung by solo voices and a choir. This was the start of the oratorio.

In 1575 he formed the Congregation of the Oratory. For the next 33 years the Oratory was at the centre of religious life in Rome. Philip took a special interest in the young, and often met with the seminarians studying at the English College preparing for the perilous mission to England under Elizabeth I.

Known for his charismatic leadership, sense of humour, humility and kindly manner, he had many friends. Philip once said: 'A joyful heart is more easily made perfect than one cast down' .

Over his door he posted a small sign that read, "The House of Christian Mirth." En route to a ceremony in his honour, he once shaved off half his beard, as a way of poking fun at himself. "Christian joy is a gift from God, flowing from a good conscience," he said.

Much of St Philip Neri's humour was a way of keeping himself humble, as he engaged in what could only be called acts of public silliness, like wearing a cushion on his head like a turban and wearing a foxtail coat in the middle of the summer.

When a young priest asked Philip what prayer would be the most appropriate to say for a couple after a wedding Mass, the future saint said, "A prayer for peace."

Often described as the 'Second Apostle of Rome' Philip however did not escape criticism. Some were shocked by his friendliness and informality. He said that the path of perfection was for laypeople as much as for the clergy and religious. He preached more about love and spiritual integrity than physical austerity. He was very fond of cats. St Philip died in Rome in 1595. He was canonised in 1622.

May 25th

St Bede

Saint Of The Day

Monk. Born in Northumbria in 673, Bede studied at the newly-founded monastery of Wearmouth, and then Jarrow. Here he became a monk, and spent the rest of his life - probably travelling no further afield than York and Lindisfarne.

The Venerable Bede said: "'I have devoted my energies to the study of the Scriptures. Observing monastic discipline, singing the daily services in church, study, teaching and writing have always been my delight."

Bede's religious writings were very important in his day, but it is as a historian that he is most remembered now. He is one of the main contemporary authorities about the early saints in these islands. His most famous work is the Ecclesiastical History of the English People. He wrote other histories, the first martyrology, letters and poems - all in Latin. He wrote in the vernacular, although most of his English writing has been lost.

During his last illness he was translating the Gospel of St John and extracts from the writings of St Isidore of Seville. He died in 735, surrounded by his community, after dictating the last sentence.

A hundred years later he was already referred to as 'the Venerable'. It was not until 1899 that he was formally recognised as a Doctor of the Church. St Boniface called him ' a light of the Church, lit by the Holy Spirit'.

He wrote the Latin words of the hymns 'The hymns for conquering martyrs raise' and ' Sing we triumphant hymns of praise'.

May 27th

St Augustine of Canterbury

Saint Of The Day

Bishop and missionary. Known as the Apostle of the English, St Augustine was a Benedictine monk and Prior of St Andrew's in Rome when Pope Gregory the Great sent him with a band of 40 missionaries to evangelise England. They landed at Ebbsfleet near Ramsgate in 597. Augustine soon converted the local King Ethelbert whose wife Bertha, daughter of the King of Paris, was already Christian. Rather than ban pagan customs his missionaries incorporated some old practices into the Christian worship.

Augustine established his see at Canterbury and founded two more bishoprics at London and Rochester. He died at Canterbury around this time in 605.

From the earliest times St Augustine has been venerated as the evangeliser of the English, although his relatively short mission was confined to a limited area.

No early images of Augustine survive, but he is depicted in 14th century stained glass at Christ Church, Oxford, at Canterbury Cathedral (1470) and in a cycle of miniatures in the breviary of the Duke of Bedford (1424). He is also in 15th century frescoes in the church of St Gregory in Rome.