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Life of St Laurence, in a Collection of Saints' Lives

Life of St Laurence, in a Collection of Saints' Lives

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1110

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Vespasian B XX

Item number: f.197r

Length: 24.5

Width: 15

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Manuscript

Once belonging to the monastery of St Augustine in Canterbury, this manuscript has a collection of saints' lives, all of them associated with Canterbury. Several of the lives are the work of the biographer Goscelin, a Flemish benedictine monk who came to England with Hermann, Bishop of Salisbury, probably in 1053. He went on the road to gather material from all over the kingdom, writing the lives of the English saints as he travelled, finally settling at Canterbury. This manuscript may have been copied within a decade of his death, at Canterbury, making it an important record of his work and evidence of the cults of saints there.

Upon the death of St Augustine in 604, the 'Apostle of the English', one of his companions from Rome, Laurence, became archbishop of Canterbury. When he died, he was entombed in the abbey of the monastery of Sts Peter and Paul, which later became St Augustine's. Although the title says that Bede wrote this 'Life of Laurence', it is not recognised as being from his martyrology or collection of saints' lives. Laurence's relics were among those translated (moved) to a new shrine at St Augustine's in 1091, an event witnessed by Goscelin. Laurence would have been specially venerated at Canterbury, and, on his feast day, 2 February (or "iii nones Februarii", at the top of the page), excerpts would have been read from his life during the daily prayer services of the monks. The lively shape and interlace and animal decoration of the large letter 'A' imitate the style of 8th-century Anglo-Saxon manuscript art.

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