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Monday, 10 August 2015

The Tears of St. Lawrence: The Customs and Traditions of St. Lawrence's Day

For the next few days you may be privileged to see the Perseid meteor shower, 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" since August 10th is the date of that saint's martyrdom and 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.

When you see a "shooting star," make a wish, as folklore says that wishes made when seeing such a star may come true.

Below: Extract taken from the Chambers Book of Days August 10th 1864, details the traditions of St. Lawrence's Day.
This being a very early saint, his history is obscure. The Spaniards, however, with whom he is a great favourite, claim him as a native of the kingdom of Aragon, and even go so far as remark, that his heroism under unheard-of sufferings was partly owing to the dignity and fortitude inherent in him as a Spanish gentleman. Being taken to Rome, and appointed one of the deacons under Bishop Xystus, he accompanied that pious prelate to his martyrdom, anno 257, and only expressed regret that he was not consigned to the same glorious death. The bishop enjoined him, after he should be no more, to take possession of the church-treasures, and distribute them among the poor. He did so, and thus drew upon himself the wrath of the Roman prefect. He was called upon to account for the money and valuables which had been in his possession; The emperor needs them,' said he, 'and you Christians always profess that the things which are Caesar's should be rendered to Caesar.' Lawrence promised, on a particular day, to show him the treasures of the church; and when the day came, he exhibited the whole body of the poor of Rome, as being the true treasures of a Christian community. ' What mockery is this?' cried the officer. 'You desire, in your vanity and folly, to be put to death—you shall be so, but it will be by inches.' So Lawrence was laid upon a gridiron over a slow fire. He tranquilly bore his sufferings; he even jested with his tormentor, telling him he was now done enough on one side—it was time to turn him. While retaining his presence of mind, he breathed out his soul in prayers, which the Christians heard with admiration. They professed to have seen an extraordinary light emanating from his countenance, and alleged that the smell of his burning was grateful to the sense. It was thought that the martyrdom of Lawrence had a great effect in turning the Romans to Christianity.
The extreme veneration paid to Lawrence in his native country, led to one remarkable result, which is patent to observation at the present day. The bigoted Philip II, having gained the battle of St. Quintin on the 10th of August 1557, vowed to build a magnificent temple and palace in honour of the holy Lawrence. The Escurial, which was constructed in fulfilment of this vow, arose in the course of twenty-four years, at a cost of eight millions, on a ground-plan which was designed, by its resemblance to a gridiron, to mark in a special manner the glory of that great martyrdom. The palace represents the handle. In its front stood a silver statue of St. Lawrence, with a gold gridiron in his hand; but this mass of the valuable metals was carried off by the soldiers of Napoleon. The only very precious article now preserved in the place, is a bar of the original gridiron, which Pope Gregory is said to have found in the martyr's tomb at Tivoli. The cathedral at Exeter boasted, before the Reformation, of possessing some of the coals which had been employed in broiling St. Lawrence.

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