Thursday, June 12, 2008

San Lorenzo

Saint Lawrence
or San Lorenzo

A patron saint of libraries and librarians is Saint Lawrence the Librarian. He is a third century saint and martyr (died 258 AD) who had responsibility for the written archives and records of the early church.

St Lawrence was one of seven famous deacons of the early church. The other six deacons along with Pope St. Sixtus II (Xystus II) were captured by the Emperor Valerian on August 6, 258, and martyred. They were buried together in the cemetery of Callistus. The oppression of the Christian church was very severe, and many Christians fled Rome or died.

As librarian and archivist, Lawrence was thought to have a list of all the members of the early church, and the locations of all the mythical hidden hoards of gold belonging to the Vatican. Captured by the soldiers of the Emperor Valerian a few days later, on August 8, 258 AD, he was told to produce all the wealth of the church. He was given only two days to bring all the treasures to the imperial palace. Particularly desired were the names of all the Christians who were also Roman nobles, since they could be ransomed for gold by the emperor, or executed and their wealth confiscated by the emperor for the state.

Lawrence gathered up the all the diseased, orphaned or crippled Christians on the appointed day, brought them to the palace, and told the startled emperor that "These are the treasures of the church!"

According to tradition, for his presumed impudence, Lawrence was then slowly roasted on a grill on the site of the Basilica di San Lorenzo in Rome, in the hope that he would publicly renounce his religion and reveal the names of the wealthy Christians. He is often represented holding a gridiron to memorialize this grisly manner of martyrdom. Although St. Lawrence was most certainly beheaded and not roasted, the traditions of his being cooked are somewhat stronger than actual fact. As a result, St Lawrence is also considered a patron saint for cooks. There is also the popular story that he was so willing to embrace Christ in heaven, that he did not mind the pain from the fire of his martyrdom, and indeed, he found the strength to tell his executioners "Turn me over. I am done on this side."

The courage and dignity of St Lawrence and many of these other early Christians in facing their death did much to gain respect for their religion in Rome, and after the death of St Lawrence, there was widespread conversion to Christianity.

His feast day is August 10th, and is usually celebrated by librarians and archivists (in honor of his traditional method of death) with cold cuts.

The annual Perseid meteor shower, one of the best known of the annually occuring meteor showers, and which occurs near his feast day in August, is sometimes called "The Tears of St. Lawrence" in Italy.

A reliquary with the head of Saint Lawrence is held in the Vatican Library.