Second Archbishop of Canterbury, d. 2 Feb., 619. For the particulars of his
life and pontificate we rely exclusively on details added by medieval writers
being unsupported by historical evidence, though they may possibly embody
ancient traditions. According to St. Bede, he was one of the original
missionaries who left Rome with St. Augustine in 595 and finally landed in
Thanet in 597. After St. Augustine had been consecrated he sent St. Lawrence
back to Rome, to carry to the pope the news of the conversion of King Ethelbert
and his people, to announce his consecration, and to ask for direction on
certain questions. In this passage of the historian St. Lawrence is referred to
as presbyter, in distinction to Peter who is called monachus. From this it has
been conjectured that he was a secular priest and not a monk; but this
conclusion has been questioned by Benedictine writers such as Elmham in the
Middle Ages and Mabillon in later times. When St. Gregory had decided the
questions asked, St. Lawrence returned to Britain bearing the replies, and he
remained with St. Augustine sharing his work. That saint, shortly before his
death which probably took place in 604, consecrated St. Lawrence as bishop, lest
the infant Church should be left for a time without a pastor. Of the new
archbishop's episcopate Bede writes:
Lawrence, having attained the dignity of
archbishop, strove most vigorously to add to the foundations of the Church which
he had seen so nobly laid and to forward the work by frequent words of holy
exhortation and by the constant example of his devoted labour. The only extant
genuine document relating to him is the fragment preserved by Bede of the letter
he addressed to the Celtic bishops exhorting them to peace and unity with Rome.
The death of King Ethelbert, in 616 was followed by a heathen reaction under his
son Eadbald, and under the sons of Sebert who became kings of the East Saxons.
Saints Mellitus and Justus, bishops of the newly-founded Sees of London and
Rochester, took refuge with St. Lawrence at Canterbury and urged him to fly to
Gaul with them. They departed, and he, discouraged by the undoing of St.
Augustine's work, was preparing to follow them, when St. Peter appeared to him
in a vision, blaming him for thinking of leaving his flock and inflicting
stripes upon him. In the morning he hastened to the king, exhibiting his wounded
body and relating his vision. This led to the conversion of the king, to the
recall of Saints Mellitus and Justus, and to their perseverance in their work of
evangelizing Kent and the neighbouring provinces. These events occurred about
617 or 618, and shortly afterwards St. Lawrence died and was buried near St.
Augustine in the north porch of St. Peter's Abbey church, afterwards known as St.
Augustine's. His festival is observed in England on 3 February.
Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, I, xxvii; Ii, iv-vii; Elmham, Historia Monasterii S. Augustini in Rolls Series (London, 1858); Acta SS. Boland., February, I; Hardy, Descriptive Catalogue (London, 1862-71), giving a list of MS. lives; Haddan and Stubbs, Ecclesiastical Documents I (London, 1869), ii; Stubbs in Dict. Christ. Biog., s. v. Laurentius (25); Hunt in Dict. Nat. Biog., s. v. Lawrence.
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