Monday 10 August 2015

Where's the P

St Lawrence's Day today. Or better San Lorenzo el mártir, because by tradition he was born at Huesca in Aragon. Traditionally this is taken as the day he suffered martyrdom in 258CE as a result of a razzia of early Christians in Rome. Emperor Valerian issued an edict in that month to take and take out all the officers - bishops, priests and deacons - of the church and remove all their material possessions to the imperial treasury.  Something had to pay for the bread and circuses. As a deacon, Valerian was responsible for the money which the Christians raised and distributed to the poor. When requested and required to bring forth the assets, Lawrence brought out a gang of widows, cripples and orphans. This bit of teasing only served to annoy his captors and he was condemned to be slowly roasted on a grid-iron.  He is represented here [L] adding a sprig of rosemary to the fire, and his auto-culinary skills have made him the patron saints of cooks. With the stoic heroic attitude we expect of martyrs, half way through the dreadful process he called out “assum est… versa et manduca” [this side is done; turn me over] which has also made him the patron saint of comedians.  The tabard he is wearing is a "dalmatic", the vestment appropriate to a deacon . . . definitely not  a "chasuble" which is only worn by priests. That knowledge was helpful in completing a crossword puzzle a few weeks ago - that's the sort of crossword us expensively educated chaps do for amusement.

Early tradition claims that San Lorenzo spirited the Holy Grail away from the remains of the Last Supper - which might make him the patron saint of plongeurs if those low-paid work-horses needed such a thing.  This is plainly nonsense because of the dates: he'd have to have lived for 200 years to be present at both events. The credibility of the story of his martyrdom has been called into question rationalised more recently by Pio Franchi de' Cavalieri. That scholar of the Vatican Library suggested that the whole grid-iron story results from a transcriptional error: passus est ["he suffered," or "he was martyred"] became assus est ["he was roasted"]. That's like finding an explanation for a miracle that agrees with what we know about the physical world: Lazarus was only sleeping etc. Duh, missing the point here, lads, miracles and martyrdoms are there to show us ordinary folk how to behave when the going gets tough. Picking holes in the details of the Christian system of belief, as some militant atheists like to do, doesn't and shouldn't impinge on the overall message which is put out by the church. Any more than biblical fundamentalists wittering on about the impossibility of evolving the vertebrate eye makes a nonsense of the rich and informative edifice of evolutionary theory.  Both attacks are mere surface assaults . . . like picking at scabs.

In honour of San Lorenzo, we may finish with a joke:
Tiny scholar raises hand in primary school and asks if he may go to the toilet.  The teacher, ever keen for a pedagogical opportunity, replies "Certainly, Bobby, but first you must recite the alphabet".  Little Bobby starts off at a stumbling gallop "a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o q r s t u v w X Y Z".
Teacher: "Where's the 'P', Bobby". 
Bobby: "Running down my leg".
Hilarious, I larfed so 'ard, I wet 'em.

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