Laurence of Canterbury

Saint Laurence of Canterbury (or Laurentius) (died 2 February 619) was the second Archbishop of Canterbury.


He arrived at Thanet with St. Augustine in 597 as part of the missionary effort dispatched from Rome to Kent in 595, although other sources state that he first came in 601, not in 597. In either case, he was a monk of St. Andrew's Monastery in Rome. Bede says he was sent back to Pope Gregory I to report on the successes in Kent in converting King Ethelbert, along with Peter, sometime between July 598 and June 601. Lawrence is probably the Lawrence referred to in the letter from Gregory the Great to Bertha, queen of Kent. In that letter, Gregory praises Bertha for her part in the conversion of her husband, which information Gregory says he recieved from Lawrence the priest. We know that Lawrence returned to England with Mellitus in the summer of 601, but Peter is not mentioned.

He succeeded Augustine in the see of Canterbury around 604 and ruled until Laurence's death on 2 February 619. Augustine had consecrated Laurence before Augustine died in order to secure the succession, fearing that if there was not someone to step into the office immediately, it would hurt the progress of Christianity in Britain. However, Laurence never received a pallium from Rome, so he may have been considered as uncanonical at Rome. In 610 he recieved letters from Pope Boniface IV, addressed to him as archbishop and Augustine's successor. These letters came because Lawrence had sent Mellitus to Rome earlier in 610, in order to recieve advice from the papacy on matters inside the English Church. While there, Mellitus attended a synod, and brought the synodical decrees back with him to Lawrence.

It was Laurence in 613 who consecrated the church that Augustine had build in Canterbury that was dedicated to saints Peter and Paul, but later was re-consecrated to St. Augustine of Canterbury. Laurence also wrote to the Christians in the lands held by the Scots and by the Britons, in order to urge them to hold Easter on the day that the Roman church celebrated it, instead of their traditional date, part of the Easter controversy. Bede has preserved the letter in his history. Laurence in 609 stated that Bishop Dagan, a Celtic bishop, would not eat with Laurence or share a roof with the archbishop, due to the differences between the two Churches. Another time, Laurence wrote that the "small number of Celts, living at the world's ends, cannot claim to know better than all the Churches of Christendom."

During Laurence's time in office, Ethelbert died in 616 and his son Eadbald returned to the old faiths and many prominent missionaries fled to Gaul. But Laurence managed to reconvert him. The tale is that Laurence had been prepared to give up when he was visited by St. Peter in a vision, who chastised him and whipped him. The marks of the whipping remained and the display of them to Eadbald effected his conversion. Bede, however, hints that it was the death of some of the pagan parties leaders in battle that really persuaded Lawrence to stay. Any efforts to extend the church beyond Kent encountered difficulties due to the attitude of King Rædwald of East Anglia, who had become the leading king in the south after the death of Ethelbert. Rædwald was converted before the death of Ethelbert, perhaps at the urging of Ethelbert, but his kingdom did not convert and he himself seems to have been converted only enough to allow a Christian altar in his pagan temple.

On his death he was buried in St. Peter's Abbey church, later renamed Saint Augustine's. In 1091 his remains were moved to the new church of St. Augustine's. He was succeeded as Archbishop by Mellitus, the Bishop of London. Laurence was later considered a saint, and his festival is on 3 February. Laurence's time as archbishop is mainly remembered for his failure to secure a settlement with the Celtic church and in his reconversion of Eadbald after Ethelbert's death.



  • Bede A History of the English Church and People translated by Leo Sherley-Price London:Penguin Books 1988 ISBN 0-14-044042-9
  • Blair, Peter Hunter (1990). The World of Bede. Reprint of 1970 edition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Brooks, Nicholas (1984). The Early History of the Church of Canterbury: Christ Church from 597 to 1066. London: Leicester University Press.
  • Brooks, N. P. "Laurence (d. 619)" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Oxford University Press, Sept 2004 online edn, Oct 2005 accessed 7 November 2007
  • Décarreaux, Jean Monks and Civilization: From the Barbarian Invasions to the Reign of Charlemagne translated by Charlotte Haldane London: George Allen 1964
  • Delaney, John P. (1980). Dictionary of Saints. Second Edition, Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday.
  • Fryde, E. B.; Greenway, D. E.; Porter, S.; Roy, I. (1996). Handbook of British Chronology. Third Edition, revised, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Hindley, Geoffrey (2006). A Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons: The Beginnings of the English Nation. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers.
  • Stenton, F. M. (1971). Anglo-Saxon England. Third Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Walsh, Michael J. (2007). A New Dictionary of Saints: East and West. London: Burns & Oats.

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