Have you ever heard of the “Tears of St. Lawrence”? Every year, from approximately July 17 through August 24, the Perseid meteor showers shoot through the sky, dazzling spectators in the Northern Hemisphere. During its peak, between 50 and 100 meteors can be seen shooting through the sky per hour. So, who was St. Lawrence and why did the meteor showers get named after him? After all, he wasn’t an astronomer nor is he the patron of anything remotely close to astronomy. In fact, he’s the patron of librarians, cooks, and deacons. Nothing about that screams “annual sky show”!
St. Lawrence was one of the last seven deacons of Rome to die during the persecution of Roman clergy by emperor Valerian. When he was ordered to produce all the wealth he had during this execution, he showed up with men who were poor, crippled, and ill. As he explained, “the true wealth of the Church” were those men. Needless to say, it didn’t go well and he was sentenced to die by gridiron. Keeping his sense of humor to his last moment, he famously said, “Turn me over, I’m done on this side!” Ba-dum-tis! St. Lawrence was martyred on August 10, A.D. 258.
Just how did this saint get associated with the spectacular natural phenomena, the Tears of St. Lawrence, though? The peak of the meteor showers happens to land right around on August 10th—also known to us Catholics as the feast of St. Lawrence. Of course, the meteors existed before the martyrdom of St. Lawrence but legend says the peak of the showers was named after the saint not only because of this feast day but because the burning meteors look like the coals that could’ve been used to kill St. Lawrence.
If you want to witness this phenomenon for yourself, it’s recommended that you look up at the sky around midnight on the 10th through 12th of August to see the Tears of St. Lawrence. If you want to see the shower but live in an urban or even suburban area with a lot of light pollution, you can make it an end-of-summer camping trip. Luckily, there will be a new moon for the feast of St. Lawrence this year which means a better chance at seeing the meteor shower more brightly. If you really want to celebrate St. Lawrence’s feast day, you can even have a barbecue or make some s’mores while you wait for the show to begin. No, it’s okay . . . I’m sure St. Lawrence wouldn’t mind. Don’t forget to turn the meat and vegetables over so that it’s all evenly cooked!