Catholic Encyclopedia – Saint Lawrence of Canterbury


Second Archbishop of Canterbury, died 2 February 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 Saint Bede, he was one of the original missionaries who left Rome with Saint Augustine in 595 and finally landed in Thanet in 597. After Saint Augustine had been consecrated he sent Saint 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 Saint 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 Saint Gregory had decided the questions asked, Saint Lawrence returned to Britain bearing the replies, and he remained with Saint Augustine sharing his work. That saint, shortly before his death which probably took place in 604, consecrated Saint 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 Saint Lawrence at Canterbury and urged him to fly to Gaul with them. They departed, and he, discouraged by the undoing of Saint Augustine’s work, was preparing to follow them, when Saint 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 Saint Lawrence died and was buried near Saint Augustine in the north porch of Saint Peter’s Abbey church, afterwards known as Saint Augustine’s. His festival is observed in England on 3 February.

MLA Citation

  • Edwin Hubert Burton. “Saint Lawrence of Canterbury”. Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913. CatholicSaints.Info. 23 May 2012. Web. 28 September 2020. <>