By A. G. Rigg
Florilegium, Volume 16 (1999)
Introduction: One of the worst things that can befall an academic—and I hope it has never happened to our honorand—is to lose the sole copy of one’s current research. The result is at best a delay and at worst the abandonment of the project (I have known two cases of the latter). If the loss is the result of theft, our sense of outrage knows no bounds; fortunately, such events are rare. It is remarkable, therefore, to observe two occurrences of the theft of unique copies of work-in-progress within a few years of each other, in the middle of the twelfth century. Neither case, as far as we know, was ever solved— but both had happy endings.
Lawrence of Durham (died 1154) was a monk at the Benedictine abbey of Durham, but was also involved in the life of the bishop’s palace at the other end of what was then the town; he was thus constandy pulled between the calm of the cloister and the bustle of the bishop’s court.
At the same time he was working on the Hypognosticon, a poem on the religious history of the world from the Fall to the Redemption, divided into the periods of Natural Law (creation to Moses), Given Law (Moses to the fall of Jerusalem), and Grace (Christ’s incarnation to the present). At the time of the disaster he had already finished 5½ books:
When I had completed the time specifically assigned to Natural Law in three books and, having finished two books, had written half of the third book on the time assigned to Given Law, the solemn feast of Our Lord’s birth summoned me to Durham.
As he went back and forth in preparations for Christmas festivities, welcomed by both the abbey and the palace, by monks and knights, someone observed his popularity and resented it:
There was someone who could not behold with a “simple eye” (Matt 6: 22) the familiarity of the prince (i.e. the bishop), the love of the church, the approval of the clergy, the favour of the court, and the praise of the people, all bestowed on me in many ways by God’s gift, since he was the kind of person who, seeing (videns) these things, could not but envy (invidere) them.