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St. Lawrence (1)
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.