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St. Lawrence: “Well done”!

August 10, 2017

Today (10 August) is the feast day of my namesake, Lawrence, Deacon in the Roman church, executed 258 CE in the persecution of Christians under Valerian.  I have nothing to add to the limited knowledge we have of him.  This posting is simply a somewhat self-indulgent nod to the guy who made the name “Lawrence” (and my name derived from it) so frequently used to this day.

The standard information is that he came from southern Spain (from where my Spanish ancestors likely derive), and moved to Rome where he became a Deacon in the church.  As such, his special responsibilities were to distribute church funds to widows and orphans.  At some point, he is said to have been ordered by the imperial authorities to hand over the funds of the Roman church to the state.  He didn’t exactly comply (the story is that he trotted in the church widows and orphans and pointed to them as the wealth of the church), and so was executed.

The traditional story is that he was roasted alive on an iron grill, although many scholars now think that, instead, he was likely beheaded, along with some other Roman Christians of that same persecution.  But in the traditional story, he is also said at one point to have called out, “I’m well done on this side, so you can turn me over!”  Whether authentic or not, it’s apparently that account that made him the patron saint of cooks and comedians!

One further story, and this one I can vouch for.  After my book, Lord Jesus Christ:  Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity, appeared (2003), I was invited to Berlin for a day-seminar devoted to the book, held by the New Testament section of the Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft für Theologie.  Several eminent German scholars had been invited to deliver critical engagements with portions of the book.  After the first ones in the morning session, the convener of the day turned to me and said with a twinkle in his eye, “Well, like your namesake, you are now perhaps roasted on the one side.  So we break for lunch, and then this afternoon we turn you over!”

But to return to Lawrence of Rome, we scholars in comfortable settings today have the luxury of investigating how he was executed, and can debunk the traditional story of his being roasted.  Nevertheless, it does seem historical that he was executed, and likely for refusing to accede to the totalitarian demands of the Roman government.  The traditional story portrays him being very “cheeky” with the Roman authorities (to use a British expression).  Personally, that makes him all the more endearing to me!  In any case, whatever your favorite “sundowner” drink, let’s raise one to Lawrence today.

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5 Comments
  1. Here, here to Lawrence.
    Of which will be tomorrow evening. Better late than…
    Enjoyed.

  2. John permalink

    As a Catholic who went to Mass today and celebrated his Feast Day, I salute you in the name of your namesake.

  3. In southern Spain, where saint’s days are still often celebrated, we would say “¡Feliz santo!”, which, roughly translated, means “Happy Saint’s Day”. With increasing foreign influence, birthdays are now also celebrated in Spain, so Saint’s days are losing importance with younger people. The advantage of saint’s days is (was?) that although people might not know the date of your birthday, they did know the name of the saint of the day, so would call out the above greeting to you if they saw you in the street on your saint’s day.

  4. Jan Bremmer permalink

    Dear Larry,

    congratulations with your name day! I do not know how good your Dutch is, but last year there appeared an attarctive book with translations into Dutch of the earliest testimonies about Laurentius:
    http://www.damon.nl/nieuwsbrief/archief/id141-nieuwsbrief-damon-10-augustus-laurentiusdag-html

    With all good wishes,

    Jan Bremmer

  5. Same here! Best wishes. Your book “Lord Jesus Christ” is in very good shape, fortunately roasters in Berlin were not as good as Romans 🙂

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