Saturday, October 16, 2010

Lorenzo Who?

If you haven't been in a mine yourself the last few days you must have heard about the rescue of the trapped miners in Chile. In several of the articles I read they spoke of the miners' deep Catholic faith as being the primary reason the miners came out of this situation as well as they did (obviously these stories were not in the main stream media, btu that's another post). The miners and their families had a devotion to San Lorenzo, the patron saint of miners. In fact, the rescue operation was dubbed "Operation San Lorenzo".

So who was this San Lorenzo? A search on patron saint of miners yields nothing about San Loenzo (other than links to articles about the Chilean miners). The most common Saint mentioned is St. Barbara, although SQPN lists several: Sts. Anne, Barbara, Eligius, Leonard of Noblac, Piran and Virgen of Rosario.

A search on San Lorenzo, or Saint Lawrence as he is known in English, and "miners" yields lots of links to articles on the Chilean miners, plus several mines and mining museums, which confirms that he is in some way associated with mining. Searching a little more, I found lots of information about the saint, but not about how he became the patron saint of miners.

So what is the image at the top of this post, and what does it have to do with St Lawrence? It is a picture of the Holy Grail. Now, before you laugh and start saying things like "What is your favorite color?" and "It's a flesh wound!" let me assure you this is no joke. The Holy Grail, which is the cup Christ used at the Last Supper, may just be this cup in Valencia Spain. As with all archeological artifacts we will never know with certainty, but many historians are convinced of the provenance of this one, and it turns out St. Lawrence is the one who got it to Spain.

The information below is taken mostly from the Saintcast episode St. Lawrence & the Holy Grail. The Saintcast is a great podcast about the saints by Dr. Paul Camarata. You can find it on iTunes. In this episode Dr. Camarata imparts an account of St. Lawrence written in the 6th century by St. Donato of Hippo, as published in the book "St. Laurence And The Holy Grail: The Holy Chalice Of Valencia" by Janice Bennett. The errors in this account are mine, as I hurriedly took notes while listening.

St. Lawrence was born in Huesca, in Spain, to parents Orencio and Paciencia. Lawrence's brother was ordained a priest, and Lawrence a deacon. When a Greek papal representative named Sixtus came through the region, Lawrence, 14 at the time, was impressed by his knowledge and piety and asked to accompany Sixtus back to Rome to learn from him. He did this, and became well known in Rome for his charity, visiting and tending to the poor and sick.

Rome in the 3rd century was not a good place to be a Christian. There were a series of persecutions throughout the Roman empire. Lawrence's parents were crucified on on May 3, 246, when Lawrence was 20. He persisted in his good works throughout the persecutions, visiting martyrs in jail and accompanying them through torture and seeing to their burial. He became the treasurer and chancellor of the Church.

In 253 the emperor Valerian came to power, who was more tolerant of Christianity than his predecessors. However, his views changed, and in 257 decreed that all priests and bishops should be forced to publicly sacrifice to the Roman gods or face death.

On August 2, 257 Pope St. Stephen I was beheaded while celebrating mass. Sixtus succeeded Stephen as Pope Sixtus II. Sixtus, anticipating that he would be arrested, entrusted all of the treasures of the church to Lawrence, including the Holy Grail and other relics. Shortly thereafter Sixtus was arrested. He was ordered to offer sacrifice to the Roman Gods but refused. Lawrence visited Sixtus in prison, who predicted Lawrence would also be arrested in three days.

Lawrence set about distributing the goods of the church which were in his care. Whatever he could, he sold and distributed to the poor. Relics, including the Holy Grail he gave to a fellow countryman of his, Precelius of Hippo. He asked him to bring them to the place of his birth to keep them safe from Valerian.

Sure enough, Sixtus was beheaded at the temple of Mars, and Lawrence was arrested. He was placed in the custody of a guard named Hippolytus. While in prison he baptized and healed a blind prisoner, Lucillus. Word got out and blind people from all over began to come to the jail to be healed. Even Hippolytus was converted and baptized.

When Valerian heard of this he ordered Lawrence to turn over to him all the treasures of the church. Lawrence asked for three days to gather the treasures. At the end of three days he came before Valerian with a group of poor, blind and lame people and declared that these are the eternal treasures of the church. Valerian had him tortured.

His torture went on for days, and the account is quite gruesome. He was beaten until the torturers became too tired to continue, and then again until the instruments they were using broke. He was placed on a rack until his limbs were dislocated. Sheet of metal were heated until glowing and pressed into his flesh. He calmly and happily praised God through it all.

During this his torturers saw a handsome young man next to him, speaking to him and wiping his brow. At least one of the torturers converted and was baptized by Lawrence. When Valerian saw that he was apparently calm and happy he ordered Lawrence to be put on a metal grating and slowly roasted over hot coals until dead.

It was after hours of this treatment that St. Lawrence made his oft quoted remark "turn me over, I am quite done on this side". He was turned over, eventually died, and was buried on August 10, 257. His head was later dug up and now resides in the Chapel of Matilda where it is displayed every year on August 10th. The head clearly shows the marks of his torturous death. lists him as the patron saint of chefs (which makes sense given his last words) as well as dozens of other things. It doesn't mention miners. As I mentioned my best guess is that he is the patron saint of coal miners in particular, because of his death over a coal fire.


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