The plan itself came as a result of the fact that the Pope was becoming increasingly concerned over the lack of Christian converts that were occurring in England under the existing Bishops The itinerary for Augustine and his brother monks seem to have been speedily, if vaguely, prepared; the little company set out upon their long journey in the month of June, 596. They were armed with letters to the bishops and Christian princes of the countries through which they were likely to pass, and they were further instructed to provide themselves with Frankish interpreters before setting foot in Britain itself.
Discouragement, however, appears early to have overtaken them on their way. Tales of the uncouth islanders to whom they were going chilled their enthusiasm, and some of their number actually proposed that they should draw back. Augustine so far compromised with the waverers that he agreed to return in person to Pope Gregory and lay before him plainly the difficulties which they might be compelled to encounter. The band of missionaries waited for him in the neighbourhood of Aix-en-Provence. Pope Gregory, however, raised the drooping spirits of Augustine and sent him back without delay to his faint-hearted brethren, armed with more precise, and as it appeared, more convincing authority.
Augustine was named abbot of the missionaries and was furnished with fresh letters in which the pope made kindly acknowledgment of the aid thus far offered by Protasius, Bishop of Aix-en-Provence, by Stephen, Abbot of Lérins, and by a wealthy lay official of patrician rank called Arigius . Augustine must have reached Aix on his return journey some time in August; for Gregory's message of encouragement to the party bears the date of July the twenty-third, 596. Whatever may have been the real source of the passing discouragement no more delays are recorded. The missionaries pushed on through Gaul, passing up through the valley of the Rhone to Arles on their way to Vienne and Autun, and thence northward, by one of several alternative routes which it is impossible now to fix with
accuracy, until they come to Paris. Here, in all probability, they passed the winter months; and here, too, as is not unlikely, considering the relations that existed between the family of the reigning house and that of Kent, they secured the services of the local presbyters suggested as interpreters in the pope's letters to Theodoric and Theodebert and to Brunichilda, Queen of the Franks.
In the spring of the following year they were ready to embark. The name of the port at which they took ship has not been recorded. Boulogne was at that time a place of some mercantile importance; and it is not improbable that they directed their steps thither to find a suitable vessel in which they could complete the last and not least hazardous portion of their journey. All that we know for certain is that they landed somewhere on the Isle of Thanet and that they waited there in obedience to King Aethelberht’s orders until arrangements could be made for a formal interview. The king replied to their messengers that he would come in person from Canterbury, which was less than a dozen miles away. It is not easy to decide at this date between the four rival spots, each of which has claimed the distinction of being the place upon which St. Augustine and his companions first set foot. The Boarded Groin, Stonar, Ebbsfleet, and Richborough — last named, if the present course of the Stour has not altered in thirteen hundred years, then forming part of the mainland — each has its defenders.
The promised interview between the king and the missionaries took place within a few days. It was held in the open air on a level spot, probably under a spreading oak in deference to the king's dread of Augustine's possible incantations. His fear, however, was dispelled by the native grace of manner and the kindly personality of his chief guest who addressed him through an interpreter. The message told "how the compassionate Jesus had redeemed a world of sin by His own agony and opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all who would believe". The king's answer, while gracious in its friendliness, was curiously prophetic of the religious after-temper of his race. "Your words and promises are very fair" he is said to have replied, "but as they are new to us and of uncertain import, I cannot assent to them and give up what I have long held in common with the whole English nation. But since you have come as strangers from so great a distance, and, as I take it, are anxious to have us also share in what you conceive to be both excellent and true, we will not interfere with you, but receive you, rather, in kindly hospitality and take care to provide what may be necessary for your support. Moreover, we make no objection to your winning as many converts as you can to your creed".