A severe monk
Pope St Gregory I was born around 540 in Rome to a wealthy family who owned estates in Sicily.
He was well educated and became an expert in law. Following in his father’s footsteps he was appointed prefect of Rome, aged 33.
After his father passed away, Gregory arranged for the family villa in Rome to be converted into a monastery, which stands today as the San Gregorio Magno al Celio.
Gregory became a monk known for his severity. When a dying monk confessed to him on his deathbed that he had stolen three pieces of gold, Gregory ordered that he be left to die alone and that his body be thrown on a dung heap with the gold (though he had a change of heart and instead offered 30 masses for the monk’s soul).
Pope Pelagius II, who reigned from 579 to 590, chose Gregory to serve as an ambassador to the imperial court in Constantinople and after his death Gregory was proclaimed pope.
Changes to the Mass
Gregory did not want the burden of office and preferred monastic life. He also put a great emphasis on missionary work: it was he who dispatched St Augustine to Kent in 597 to preach the Word.
Pope Gregory made changes to the Mass including the position of the Our Father. It is also believed that he established cantus planus, known in England as plainchant or Gregorian chant.
When a famine struck in Rome in 590, he ordered the Church to use its assets to feed the poor and he refused to eat until they had been fed.
Pope Gregory died in 604 AD and was immediately declared a saint.
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