Lawrence was born around 1110 at Waltham, Essex, became a monk at Durham and was Prior from 1149 until his death while returning from business in Rome in 1154. He is best known today for his semi-dramatic Dialogi, which include an account of his experience during the usurpation of the see of Durham by William Cumin in 1143-44, when the Durham monks were briefly exiled to the neighbouring parish of St. Giles. In his own time, however, his best-known work was the Hypognosticon, a nine-book epic on the redemption of mankind which survives in nearly twenty manuscripts. He also wrote a prose life of St. Bridget, at least five speeches in prose and a Consolatio de morte amici (‘Consolation for the death of a friend’) which is influenced by Boethius, besides the Peregrini and a sequence text on the Resurrection which was probably intended as a coda to it and which we include as such.
The Peregrini is preserved only in Durham University Library, MS Cosin V.iii.1, a selective anthology of his works. Most of it was apparently written shortly after his death in 1154, though the last section, including the play and the hymn on the Resurrection, may have been added some years later. Rather unhelpfully, the play’s heading reads Rithmus Laurentij de Christo et eius discipulis (‘Poem by Lawrence about Christ and his Disciples’), but this heading is not original: it was added at the end of the sixteenth century in a deliberately archaic hand which is probably that of the antiquarian William Claxton of Wynyard (died 1597). The work is entirely in dialogue with speaker labels, and its structure is undeniably that of a Peregrinus play: the journey to Emmaus scene (ll. 1-244; stanzas 1-61) is followed by a discussion among the Apostles about whether the Maries’ report of the empty tomb can be trusted, culminating in the first appearance of Christ to them (ll. 245-373; stanzas 62-92) and the Doubting Thomas scene (ll. 374-438; stanzas 93-109). This is exactly the structure of the Peregrinus plays from Beauvais and Fleury; the only differences are that Lawrence’s play is in verse throughout and that it lacks musical notation and rubrics; the absence of music and liturgical ‘stage directions’ can be attributed to the type of manuscript in which it is preserved, which is a poetic anthology rather than a service book.