Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Petrus

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PETRUS (d. 606?), first abbot of St. Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury, was both a monk and a priest (Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica, i. cc. 27, 33), and was one of the companions of St. Augustine [q. v.] on his mission to England in 596–7. Either at the end of 597 or the beginning of 598, Augustine sent him in company with Lawrence or Laurentius [q. v.], afterwards archbishop of Canterbury, to Pope Gregory to announce the success of the mission and to lay before him certain questions. He apparently brought back the pope's replies in 601. Ethelbert (552?–616) [q. v.], king of Kent, was building the monastery of SS. Peter and Paul, later called St. Augustine's, at the time of Augustine's death, and Petrus was appointed its first abbot. His name appears in a charter of Ethelbert to the monastery recording his appointment as abbot, and in a charter of Augustine concerning the exemption of the house, but both are undoubtedly spurious (Elmham, pp. 114, 119–21). While fulfilling a mission to Gaul on which he had been sent by Ethelbert, he was drowned in a creek of the sea at Amfleet or Ambleteuse, a short distance north of Boulogne, probably on 30 Dec. 606. The year of his death, given by Elmham as 607, depends on the date assigned to the death of Augustine, for it is said by Elmham to have taken place one year seven months and three weeks afterwards (ib. p. 126). The year of Augustine's death, which is not certainly ascertained, is taken here to be 604. The people of the country buried the body of Petrus without any marks of respect, not knowing who he was. A miraculous light appeared by night above his grave, and those who lived in the neighbourhood were thus taught that he was a holy man; so they made inquiries as to who he was and whence he came, removed his body to Boulogne, and there buried it in the church of St. Mary the Virgin with fitting honour (Bede, u.s. c. 33). Petrus is said to have been highly esteemed by Augustine, so that for his sake Augustine gave to the new monastery the gifts sent him by Gregory. An epitaph on him is given by Elmham. There is an unprinted ‘Life of Petrus,’ written by Eadmer, in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, manuscript no. 371, f. 416, and it is perhaps to this that Elmham refers in his ‘History of the Monastery’ (p. 111). Malbrancq, writing in the seventeenth century and quoting from the records of the church of Boulogne, gives some particulars of his life, on which it would at least not be safe to lay any stress, such as that Petrus was employed by Ethelbert to preach to the Northumbrians and did so with success, that his habits were ascetic, that he worked miracles, and that his body was translated to Boulogne by an earl named Fumertius. His obit was kept at Canterbury, and was, according to the Benedictine martyrology, on 30 Dec., though the English martyrology places it on 6 Jan., which, it is suggested, may have been the day of his translation (Stubbs).

[Bede's Hist. Eccl. i. cc. 27, 33 (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Elmham's Hist. Mon. S. Aug. Cant. pp. 2, 92, 94, 96, 111, 114, 121, 126 (Rolls Ser.); Thorne's Chron. S. Aug. Cant. cols. 1760–6, ed. Twysden, ap Decem Scriptt.; Hardy's Cat. of Materials, i. 206–7 (Rolls Ser.); Acta SS. Ord. Ben. ii. 1; Acta SS. Bolland., January, i. 334–5; Malbrancq's De Morinis, i. 285–8; Somner's Antiq. of Canterbury, pt. 2, pp. 164, ed. Batteley; Dict. Chr. Biogr. art. ‘Petrus’ (72), by Bishop Stubbs.]

W. H.