Saint of the Day – 2 February – Saint Lawrence of Canterbury (Died 619) the Second Archbishop of Canterbury the successor of St Augustine of Canterbury from 604 until his death in 619, but he was Consecrated as Archbishop by his predecessor, St Augustine, during Augustine’s lifetime, to ensure continuity in the office, Benedictine Monk, Missionary. He was a member of the Gregorian mission sent from Italy to England to Christianise the Anglo-Saxons. Born in the 6th Century and died on 2 February 619 in Canterbury, England of natural causes. Also known as – Lorenzo.
The Roman Martyrology states: “In Canterbury in England, St Lawrence, Bishop, who after St Augustine ruled this Church and greatly increased it by converting King Edbald to the Faith.”
Lawrence, a Monk of the Monastery of St Andrea al Clelio in Rome, arrived in England with St Augustine of Canterbury, to accompany him on his new mission in a land that was still pagan. The expedition had been strongly desired by Pope St Gregory the Great, informed by the Christian Queen of Kent, of the need for shepherds to convert the Anglo Saxons. The missionaries, after a long and dangerous journey, landed in 597 on the island of Thanet, in the kingdom of Kent. Everything that is known about Lawrence’s life is due to the first two books of “Ecclesiastical history” written by St Bede the Venerable.
In 601, following the Baptism of King St Ethelbert, Lawrence was sent to Rome to announce the success of the mission to the Pontiff and receive further instructions on how to proceed.
On the death of Augustine, in 604, he was succeeded by ,Lawrence, whom he himself had designated as his successor. The new Bishop consecrated “the Church dedicated to the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, so that the bodies of Augustine, all the bishops of Canterbury and the Kings of the Cantia could be buried.”
Lawrence also attempted to continue the consolidation policy already pursued by Augustine among the Anglo-Saxons of south-east England but was unable, like his predecessor, to intensify collaboration with the Irish and British Bishops of the western part of the country, still linked to the island traditions. To the Irish shepherds he address a letter that would find lasting echo in England in the following centuries: “Before understanding the actual situation, we held in high esteem the religious practice of the British and the Irish […]. Having known the British, we thought that the Irish would have been better. But now we have understood […] that the Irish do not surpass the Britons in ecclesiastical observance.” In the same tone he also wrote to the British Bishops but, as Bede pointed out, he made absolutely no profit with this attitude and, therefore, had to face the worsening of the situation even in Kent itself.
The latter phenomenon culminated in 616 with the accession to the throne of Edbald, son of Ethelbert, who refused to embrace the Christian faith accepted by his father.
Two Monks, followers of ,Lawrence, St Mellitus (24 April) and St Justus (10 November), preferred to return to Gaul, in order to avoid getting involved in any bloody persecutions against Christians. Lawrence, after having meditated on this for a long time, in the end preferred to remain in his chair and face the new King. According to an ancient local tradition, also reported by St Bede, Lawrence changed his mind about his departure ,following a very concrete apparition of St Peter, who actually whipped Lawrence for his cowardice. “The servant of Christ, Lawrence, went immediately to the King and, opening his robe, showed him how many wounds he had received.” Edbaldo was greatly impressed by this extraordinary display of supernatural power and decided to convert to Christianity immediately. Granted the resumption of the development of the Church in Kent, Mellitus and justus also soon returned to their positions.
Lawrence died on 2 February 619 and was buried next to St Augustine in Canterbury Abbey. The tomb was opened in 1091 by Abbot Guido, to transfer the relics to a more eminent place and an intense perfume came out that invaded the entire Monastery. Another inspection of his tomb again took place in 1915.
The antiquity of the worship paid to the holy Bishop is attested by the Irish Missal of Stowe, which set the date of his feast at 3 February, a commemoration that remained unchanged until the last edition of the Martyrology moved it to 2 February, the actual anniversary of his birth into Heaven.
The iconography relating to St Lawrence usually depicts him in the act of showing King Edbald his wounds.