LAWRENCE OF ENGLAND
The qualification "the Englishman" (either Anglus, or Anglicus), which the early writers of the Order invariably use after Lawrence's name, shows the land of his birth. But when, or in what part of the country, he was born, or anything about his parentage, these literati did not take the pains to tell us. Evidently in those days such facts were considered to be of little importance. It is not even known just when our Englishman, though he was the first of his nation to become a Friar Preacher, associated himself with Saint Dominic. Yet it is certain that he was one of the holy man's early disciples at Prouille and Toulouse.(1)
At that period, Saint James' Church, Compostela, Spain, was a popular shrine, to which the faithful flocked from various parts of the world. In 1211, the reader will recall, Dominic performed the astounding miracle of bringing back to life some forty English pilgrims, who, while on their way to that historic place of prayer, were drowned by the capsizing of the boat in which they attempted to cross the Garonne, near Toulouse, France.(2) Some of our Friar-Preacher authors follow the leadership of Father John de Réchac (or John de Sancta Maria), who flourished in the second quarter of the seventeenth century, say that Lawrence was one of those whom the saint resuscitated at this time, and tell their readers that he forthwith became his faithful disciple. These assertions really have no solid basis; for the earlier writers, who would hardly have overlooked so singular and pertinent an incident, make no such statements. For instance, Blessed Jordan, who knew him well, simply says that our Englishman was among), Dominic's first disciples.(3)
However, for such an extraordinary event must have been noised abroad, it is probable that this miracle had its part in bringing the pious Briton and Dominic together. On the other hand, there can be no doubt but that Lawrence took his place in all the discussions at Toulouse and Prouille about the proposed new Order and the rule that should be adopted as its foundation stone. He was one of those who renewed their vows in Notre Dame, Prouille, on August 15, 1217. Thence, as has already been recounted, he accompanied Matthew of France to Paris. On his way north, we are credibly told, he prophesied the troubles and trials which the fathers would meet with in that university city, their final triumph, and the glory which would ultimately crown their efforts. Everything turned out precisely as he had foretold. He himself lived to see the last part of his prediction realized in a measure perhaps beyond his most sanguine expectation.
Doubtless it is for this reason that many writers assure us that the first English Friar Preacher was one of the greatest supports of Matthew of France in the early difficulties at Paris. It explains why Matthew chose him to go to Rome and lay the case before Honorius III and Saint Dominic. This seems certainly to have been early in 1218. While in the Eternal City (perhaps the only time he was ever there), Lawrence witnessed the multiplication of bread and wine by the Order's founder, when his community had not the wherewith in the house for a meal.(4) How long Father Lawrence remained in Rome, or whether he engaged in the apostolic ministry while in Italy, we have no means of knowing with certainty. However, no doubt because of his zeal, there are those who feel that be must have preached not a little in the Capital of Christendom.
Thanks to the usual lack of detail, exasperating brevity, want of completeness, and omission of dates in the works of our early writers, almost as little is known of the life and labors of Lawrence of England after he became a Friar Preacher as is known of him before he entered the Order. Still the few references made to him here and there show that he was held in the highest esteem for his character and sanctity; that he was given to great mortification; and that he was accredited with several miracles and the gift of prophecy. Father Bzowski says that his life and ways were more like those of an angel than of a man.(5) Practically all the older authors call him "Blessed Lawrence."
Tradition, which has been more or less repeated by various authors, tells us that Lawrence returned to France from Rome. In the same way we learn that he was a most zealous, apostolic man and an excellent preacher. His sermons, in which he possibly followed the style of Saint Dominic, never failed to draw large audiences, as well as to effect much good. To these splendid qualities he added that of rare learning -- a fact, it seems to us, that has not been sufficiently stressed. Since the days of Father John de Réchac, who at times appears to be somewhat venturesome in his statements, some say that Saint Dominic sent this British confrère, with a band of missionaries, to Scotland at the request of King Alexander II, and that his labors there bore the most abundant fruit. They give no other proof or authority for the assertion. As far as we have been able to learn, it is without any foundation.
There is little or no room for doubt that we are on safe ground, if we accept the word of Father Bzowski, who tells us that Lawrence labored in France until the end, and that he died at historic Saint James' Priory, Paris, which he had helped to build. The noted annalist and historian places his death in 1235. Fathers Pio and Berthier give the same date. Father Marchese assigns January 27 as the month and day, which he says is in accordance with an ancient French martyrology. The Année Dominicaine gives its sketch of him on January 30; but we do not know for what reason. (6)
Marchese and Berthier note that the zealous missionary died in the odor of sanctity. The Italian hagiologist declares that the Province of France owed much of its early growth and success to his efforts, eloquence, and personality. Similarly, the first edition of the Année Dominicaine, which is repeated by the last, asserts that an old Dominican martyrology says of him: "Blessed Lawrence was renowned for his gift of prophecy, the integrity of his life, and the splendor of his miracles" (Beatus Laurentius dono prophetiae, vitae integritate, et miraculorum gloria insignis fuit).(7)
It is no more than natural that all English-speaking Dominicans would be glad to see Father Lawrence beatified; for he was the first of their tongue to enter the Order. Besides, they would then have in heaven a Friar Preacher, who was acquainted with their own language, to whom they could send up their prayers. It would also increase the number of Saint Dominic's original disciples accorded the honors of the altar.
1. Acta Sanctorum, XXXV (first vol. for August), 371, No. 75, 547, No. 39; ALBERTI, fol. 180; Année Dominicaine, I (January), 907 ff; BALME-LELAIDIER, II, 133 ff; BZOVIUS (Bzowski), XIII, col. 455; CASTILLO, p. 54; JORDAN of Saxony, Opera (Berthier ed.), p. 17; MALVENDA, p. 176; MAMACHI, pp. 370, 411-412, 425; MARCHESE, I, 160; MORTIER, I, 90, 94; PIO, col. 16; QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 16. The Année Dominicaine and other works were used along with Touron. (Ed. note).
2. DE FRACHET, Vitae Fratrum (Reichert ed.), pp. 68-69.
3. Année Dominicaine, I, 907; JORDAN of Saxony, as in note 1.
4. MAMACHI, p. 425; MORTIER, I, 94.
5. Annales, XIII, col. 455
6. Father Berthier on page XII of his preface to Opera of Blessed Jordan. For Fathers Bzowski, Marchese, and Pio and Année Dominicaine see note 1.
7. Année Dominicaine and the others as in note 1. Berthier as in the preceding note.