Solemnity of St Laurence, 2017
Homily delivered by Fr Prior on the patronal feast of St Laurence's (Ampleforth) Abbey, 10th August 2017.
The martyrology read out at Matins on Monday included the name of Pope Sixtus II, caught celebrating the Eucharist on the Appian Way, the highway south out of Rome. In this savage persecution by the Emperor Valerian, Sixtus was beheaded in 258 along with six of his deacons. Ever since then we can imagine that the Church in Rome had been waiting for the subsequent arrest and martyrdom of the seventh of Sixtus’s deacons, Laurence. And we can be in no doubt that Laurence himself knew what was coming. The reading from the book of Wisdom was the special reading for Saint Sixtus, but it seemed even more appropriate for today’s feast. St Laurence, burnt to death on the grid-iron, was a real holocaust, tested like gold in a furnace. God has put them all - Pope Sixtus and his seven deacons - to the test and proved them worthy to be with him.
Laurence was from Iberia, probably Valencia, and it was in Spain that he had first met the Greek Sixtus before he was elected Pope in 257. The new Pope summoned Laurence to Rome, ordained him deacon and appointed him archdeacon. He was 32.
After St Peter and St Paul, St Laurence is the most popular of all the Roman martyrs. And his popularity is world-wide. We share the dedication to St Laurence not only with famous Roman churches, but with over two hundred ancient parishes in England. This local devotion is not new. We know from St Bede that the monastery at Monkwearmouth had a side chapel dedicated to St Laurence.
And St Laurence is a popular saint throughout Europe and across the world. The conventual buildings at Dieulouard (right) were already dedicated to him when our English monks were given the building in 1608*. The French explorer Jacques Cartier, from Saint-Malo, discovered the great river in eastern Canada on this day in 1535 and named it the Saint Laurence. The palace-monastery of the Escorial (lower right) outside Madrid was built by King Philip II (widower of our own Queen Mary) in the shape of a grid-iron, to commemorate his victory at the Battle of St Quentin on this day in 1557. It was from the Escorial that Bishop Hedley acquired our relic of St Laurence (above). And you may remember that the dramatic rescue of the Chilean miners in 2010 was put under the patronage of St Laurence.
Laurence’s almsgiving, his fidelity to Christ, his perseverance in the face of suffering and his humour, even the fact that he died at the age of 33, like Jesus Christ, all make him an attractive patron for people in any age. This wheat grain fell on the ground and germinated. It ceased to be a single grain and became a strong plant. May St Laurence pray for us and protect us in all our troubles. May he continue to produce a rich harvest in our community.
[* After the Reformation, the newly regrouped English Benedictines took refuge on the continent. Our Community settled at Dieulouard in north-east France. They took over a church dedicated to St Laurence. Even after our return to England after the French Revolution, St Laurence remained our Patron. See our History page for more.]