In August of A.D.
258, the emperor Valerian ordered that all deacons, priests, and Bishops
be put to death. Tradition via the Golden Legend tells us that Pope Sixtus
II met with Lawrence, saying to him:
"I shall not leave
thee, my son, but greater strifes and battles be due to thee for the faith
of Jesu Christ. We, as old men, have taken more lighter battle, and to thee
as to a young man shall remain a more glorious battle of which thou shalt
triumph and have victory of the tyrant, and shalt follow me within three
Then he delivered to him all the treasures, commanding him that he should
give them to churches and poor people. And the blessed man sought the poor
people night and day, and gave to each of them that as was needful, and came
to the house of an old woman, which had hid in her house many Christian men
and women, and long she had had the headache, and St. Laurence laid his hand
opon her head, and anon she was healed of the ache and pain.
And he washed the feet of the poor people and gave to each of them alms.
The same night he went to the house of a Christian man and found therein
a blind man, and gave to him his sight by the sign of the cross. And when
the blessed Sixtus would not consent to Decius, ne offer to the idols, he
commanded that he should be led forth and beheaded.
Pope Sixtus II's
martyrdom was followed three days later by that of Lawrence, the last of
the deacons of Rome to be executed. He was put to death by being roasted
on a gridiron over a fire. The Golden Legend, written in A.D. 1275 by Jacobus
de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, gives us this account:
And the ministers despoiled him, and laid him stretched out upon a
gridiron of iron, and laid burning coals under, and held him with forks of
iron. Then said Laurence to Valerianus: Learn, thou cursed wretch, that thy
coals give to me refreshing of coldness, and make ready to thee torment
perdurable, and our Lord knoweth that I, being accused, have not forsaken
him, and when I was demanded I confessed him Christ, and I being roasted
give thankings unto God.
And after this he said with a glad cheer unto Decius, Thou cursed wretch,
thou hast roasted that one side, turn that other, and eat.
And then he, rendering thankings to our Lord, said: I thank thee, Lord Jesu
Christ, for I have deserved to enter into thy gates.
St. Lawrence was
buried in the Catacomb of Cyriaca, on the Via Tiburtina. Constantine the
Great built a chapel there in his honor, and this chapel was built up over
the years, becoming known as St. Lawrence-Outside-The-Walls (San Lorenzo
fuori le Mura), one of the original seven patriarchal basilicas of Rome.
Another church, San Lorenzo in Panisperna, was built at the place of his
martyrdom. In this latter church, one can venerate the gridiron upon which
St. Lawrence was put to death.
St. Lawrence is patron of librarians, archivists, cooks, and deacons. He
is most often represented in art handing out the treasures of the Church
(as above), roasting on a gridiron, or with a gridiron, the Gospels, or a
bag of money for the poor.
Customs and Traditions
Tonight, or especially
tomorrow night and up to the dawn of 12 August,
1 if you look up at a clear sky in
the Northern hemisphere, you may be blessed to see the Perseid meteor shower,
2 debris of the comet Swift-Tuttle
whose "radiant" (point of apparent origin) is in the constellation of Perseus.
This meteor shower is known as "the tears of St. Lawrence" because it is
most visible at this time of year, though these streaks of light can sometimes
be seen as early as 17 July and as late as 24 August.
To see St. Lawrence's
"fiery tears," go outside after midnight, to a place as far away as possible
from city lights (leave the city, if possible, and drive toward the constellation
so that the city lights' glow will be behind you). Lie down on the grass
and look up and toward the North, about halfway between the constellation
Perseus 3 -- which will be very, very
low on the horizon to the northeast -- and the point directly overhead. Scan
the sky elsewhere, too, but this area will be the most likely place to see
the meteors. If the sky is too cloudy or the Moon is too full (see at right)
for you to get a good view of the stars, you might not have any luck at all
-- but there will always be next year to try again!
When you see a "shooting star," make a wish, as folklore says that wishes
made when seeing such a star come true. Better yet, make the "wish" a prayer,
and invoke St. Lawrence to pray it with you! (To learn more about God's beautiful stars, see this site's Zodiac sub-section.)
Psalm 8 ("Dómine, Dóminus noster") is a part of the Second
Nocturne of today's Divine Office, and is an especially appropriate psalm
to think of, along with its associated antiphon, while watching the tears
of St. Lawrence.
O Lord our Governour,
how excellent is thy Name in all the world; Thou hast set Thy glory above
the heavens! Out of the mouth of very babes and sucklings hast Thou ordained
strength, because of Thine enemies, that Thou mightest still the enemy and
the avenger. For I will consider Thy heavens, even the works of Thy fingers;
the moon and the stars which Thou hast ordained.
What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that Thou
visitest him? Thou madest him lower than the Angels, to crown him with glory
and worship. Thou makest him to have dominion of the works of Thy hands;
and Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet : All sheep and
oxen; yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowls of the air, and the fishes
of the sea; and whatsoever walketh through the paths of the seas.
O Lord our Governour, how excellent is Thy Name in all the world!
Blessed Lawrence said : The darkness is no darkness with me, but the night
is as clear as the dawning, that shineth more and more unto the perfect
As to foods, there
is nothing in particular associated with this day that I am aware of -- but,
given St. Lawrence's mode of death, a barbecue seems a very natural choice.
Grill some meats and vegetables, have a nice cooler of beer, and prepare
for a late night of star-gazing and recalling the glory of St. Lawrence!
On the Feast of S. Laurence the Martyr
By Pope St. Leo the Great
I. The Example
of the Martyrs is Most Valuable
Whilst the height of all virtues, dearly-beloved, and the fulness of all
righteousness is born of that love, wherewith God and one's neighbour is
loved, surely in none is this love found more conspicuous and brighter than
in the blessed martyrs; who are as near to our Lord Jesus, Who died for all
men, in the imitation of His love, as in the likeness of their suffering.
For, although that Love, wherewith the Lord has redeemed us, cannot be equalled
by any man's kindness, because it is one thing that a man who is doomed to
die one day should die for a righteous man, and another that One Who is free
from the debt of sin should lay down His life for the wicked : yet the martyrs
also have done great service to all men, in that the Lord Who gave them boldness,
has used it to show that the penalty of death and the pain of the cross need
not be terrible to any of His followers, but might be imitated by many of
them. If therefore no good man is good for himself alone, and no wise man's
wisdom befriends himself only, and the nature of true virtue is such that
it leads many away from the dark error on which its light is shed, no model
is more useful in teaching God's people than that of the martyrs. Eloquence
may make intercession easy, reasoning may effectually persuade; but yet examples
are stronger than words, and there is more teaching in practice than in precept.
II. The Saint's Martyrdom Described.
And how gloriously strong in this most excellent manner of doctrine the blessed
martyr Laurentius is, by whose sufferings to-day is marked, even his persecutors
were able to feel, when they found that his wondrous courage, born principally
of love for Christ, not only did not yield itself, but also strengthened
others by the example of his endurance. For when the fury of the gentile
potentates was raging against Christ's most chosen members, and attacked
those especially who were of priestly rank, the wicked persecutor's wrath
was vented on Laurentius the deacon, who was pre-eminent not only in the
performance of the sacred rites, but also in the management of the church's
property , promising himself double spoil from one man's capture: for if
he forced him to surrender the sacred treasures, he would also drive him
out of the pale of true religion. And so this man, so greedy of money and
such a foe to the truth, arms himself with double weapon: with avarice to
plunder the gold; with impiety to carry off Christ. He demands of the guileless
guardian of the sanctuary that the church wealth on which his greedy mind
was set should be brought to him. But the holy deacon showed him where he
had them stored, by pointing to the many troops of poor saints, in the feeding
and clothing of whom he had a store of riches which he could hot lose, and
which were the more entirely safe that the money had been spent on so holy
III.the Description of His Sufferings Continued.
The baffled plunderer, therefore, frets, and blazing out into hatred of a
religion, which had put riches to such a use, determines to pillage a still
greater treasure by carrying off that sacred deposit, wherewith he was enriched,
as he could find no solid hoard of money in his possession. He orders Laurentius
to renounce Christ, and prepares to ply the deacon's stout courage with frightful
tortures: and, when the first elicit nothing, fiercer follow. His limbs,
torn and mangled by many cutting blows, are commanded to be broiled upon
the fire in an iron framework, which was of itself already hot enough to
burn him, and on which his limbs were turned from time to time, to make the
torment fiercer, and the death more lingering.
IV. Laurentius Has Conquered His Persecutor.
Thou gainest nothing, thou prevailest nothing, O savage cruelty. His mortal
frame is released from thy devices, and, when Laurentius departs to heaven,
thou art vanquished. The flame of Christ's love could not be overcome by
thy flames, and the fire which burnt outside was less keen than that which
blazed within. Thou didst but serve the martyr in thy rage, O persecutor:
thou didst but swell the reward in adding to the pain. For what did thy cunning
devise, which did not redound to the conqueror's glory, when even the instruments
of torture were counted as part of the triumph? Let us rejoice, then,
dearly-beloved, with spiritual joy, and make our boast over the happy end
of this illustrious man in the Lord, Who is "wonderful in His saints," in
whom He has given us a support and an example, and has so spread abroad his
glory throughout the world, that, from the rising of the sun to its going
down, the brightness of his deacon's light doth shine, and Rome is become
as famous in Laurentius as Jerusalem was ennobled by Stephen. By his prayer
and intercession we trust at all times to be assisted; that, because all,
as the Apostle says, "who wish to live holily in Christ, suffer persecution,"
we may be strengthened with the spirit of love, and be fortified to overcome
all temptations by the perseverance of steadfast faith. Through our Lord
1 You will probably have better luck seeing the
meteors around 10 PM tomorrow night (11 August), the last of the "Dog
Days" (see footnote 1 on the page for Twelfth
Night). The pre-dawn hours (early morning of 12 August) are usually the
best time for viewing.
2 A meteor (sometimes called "shooting
stars" or "falling stars" even though they are not stars) is a
meteoroid that has entered our atmosphere and, so, is burned up by
friction, often with little bursts of color (white, blue, red, yellow, green)
and, sometimes, even noise (buzzing, popping, whistling, crackling,
even the occasional, relatively loud boom!).
A meteroid is a usually small particle -- often no bigger than a grain
of sand -- that is produced by comets.
Comets are typically balls of dust and ice that "circle" our sun in
predictable orbits. As they near the sun, the sun's heat melts the comet's
ice, releasing some of the dust particles which then produce the comet's
If a meteor hits the earth, it is then called a meteorite.
3 Photograph of the constellation Perseus, with
lines drawn in. You will see Perseus very low on the horizon to the Northeast.
To the Northwest, about a third of the way up from the horizon and overhead
point, will be Ursa Major -- the "Great Bear," with its "Big Dipper" or "Plough":