10th August is the saint’s day for St Lawrence (Laurence of Rome) after whom our parish church is named. Here is his story:
Laurence was a deacon of the Church in Rome and was martyred in 258. His story is found in the very ancient Depositio Martyrum, which tells us that he was closely associated with Pope Sixtus II, who was martyred just a few days before him during the persecution of the Emperor Valerian. We also know that he was much loved for his almsgiving.
St Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage, relates how the Roman authorities had taken to confiscating all the goods of any Christians they discovered and then putting the Christians to death. And so it was in August of 258, after Sixtus was martyred, that they demanded of Laurence the wealth of the Church in Rome. He asked for three days to gather it together. During that time he worked quickly, to distribute as much of it as possible to the poor in Rome. On the third day, he presented himself to the prefect of Rome, taking along a small delegation of the poor and crippled. He told the prefect that these people were the true treasures of the Church and that ‘The Church is truly rich, far richer than your emperor’. This did not go down well with the prefect and Laurence was condemned to a martyr’s death.
It was Laurence, of course, who is famous for being roasted alive on a gridiron and telling his captors to ‘turn him over’ when he was done on one side. The story has no historic basis, as the weapon of capital punishment at the time was the sword for decapitation. It is thought by many scholars that the roasting on the gridiron story came about because of a simple spelling mistake by a monk in copying the history years later; the accidental omission of the letter ‘p’ would have been enough. This is because the customary formula for announcing the death of a martyr was ‘passus est’ (he suffered/was martyred). If you leave off the ‘p’ you get ‘assus est’ – he was roasted. Only he wasn’t!