Byrgenwerth & the Healing ChurchByrgenwerth is where the Great Ones were studied, though in practice this seems mainly to have been a study of how to make contact with them. Among the scholars were Provost (later Master) Willem and Laurence, and given that the first hunter Gehrman knows both it's likely he, too, began here.
A schism was caused when what Alfred calls the “holy medium” was found. This could be referring to Queen Yharnam, or her dead child's blood, but it is much more likely to be the abandoned Ebrietas – a Great One that can be found in-game. The temptation of a living, breathing Great One's blood was too much for some.
Willem's motto was simple: “Fear the old blood.” He wished to probe the secrets of the cosmos, but intuited the dangers of transfusing oneself with the blood of gods. Laurence disagreed and, in what Willem termed a betrayal, left Byrgenwerth to found the Healing Church.
Blood ministration was the foundation of the Healing Church. “Blood ministration is, of course, the pursuit of communion.” Laurence believed that through infusing oneself with the blood of the Great Ones some sort of communication could be had.
Everything began well for the Healing Church, because of the miraculous properties of blood ministration. It seemed to cure all ills and grant exceptional longevity to the citizens of Yharnam, who in turn worshipped the church.
But the Church itself was a front. In the Upper Cathedral Ward, locked away from prying eyes, was the Orphanage, where the Great One Ebrietas was kept and abandoned children were experimented upon. The Choir, the highest-ranking echelon of the Church, would come from the Orphanage.
As for Laurence? This is speculation rather than fact, but in the grand cathedral of Yharnam the player finds a giant beast's skull – which, when touched, plays a flashback of Laurence's last meeting with Willem.
There is also video evidence that this split-head form of the Bloodletting Beast has dialogue for when you die to it - which I haven’t been able to verify myself because I never die.
The dialogue is:
The time has come again I fear. But if the fates smile upon us, we’ll soon meet again. Farewell, dear friend.If you had a fanciful mind, you might read this as someone pressed unwillingly into an uncontrollable danger - like turning into a beast while the moon is low - saying what he hopes won’t be a last goodbye. The addressee can only be guessed. This time, the speaker never made it back.
Speculation, of course. But perhaps a fitting end for a man who reached for the skies - and damned his civilization in the process.