Coccium Quips 4 - A Reflection on a Fearless Man of Faith
Brethren, a different emphasis in this edition, enough of my inane ramblings of previous versions (for the time being!) and as a change (hopefully) an interesting commentary on a person to whom we are introduced on our first our entry into this Ancient and Honourable Order of the Allied Masonic Degrees. Read on and all will be revealed……… always, a pint of the best to the first to spot the deliberate mistake!!!
  • Introduction
Brethren, it’s worth reminding ourselves every now and then, that whilst in the modern age we seem to be in the midst of growing religious cynicism and secular persuasion, Freemasonry was firmly founded on religious faith, and by Brethren who wanted to remain close to God in their Lodges. As it was with the Guilds who produced the passion plays and took their faith to the people, in my opinion Freemasonry wouldn’t and couldn’t exist in our current form without an underlying and continuous faith and belief in The Great Disposer of All.
That enduring ideal means that no man can be made a Mason without an acknowledgement and belief in God, and our obligations are taken on the VSL which is always present in our Lodges. So even in this increasingly secular age, Freemasons carry the torch and continue to build the characters and morality of Brethren, around a faith in God. This is reflected in much of our ceremonial and its allegory.
Consequently, and unsurprisingly, the Order of the Allied Masonic Degrees comprises a number of religious themes in its various degrees, and is anchored by the Degree of St Lawrence the Martyr on our first introduction into the Order. Lawrence was a man who, we are told in the lecture of this degree, suffered the greatest of privations in the name of the Christian faith. From my understanding this lecture does indeed provide a good account of his final days. However, apart from the information provided in the lecture, what do we really know about the background to this remarkable man’s life and actions? What goes round comes round as they say, and as the faith of generations has been sorely tested by war, famine etc., and in our current circumstances with the pandemic, try to put yourself in the mind-set of a true Martyr, who faced the option of relinquishing his faith or being put to a cruel death. Which option would we choose?
I have tried to find as much information as I can on the life of Lawrence, but, as with many aspects of antiquity, it is invariably difficult to properly sort the wheat from the chaff, and a number of explanations can be found. These may use slightly different descriptions of events but in the main tend to have very similar themes. I have always found that the best way forward is to read and consider as much as I can about particular subject and then make up my own mind. In this respect, the earliest references to Lawrence that I have come across are those related by St Ambrose who wrote an account around 100 years after the martyrdom of Lawrence. Taking all this into consideration, the following is my take on the life and times of St Lawrence the Martyr.
  • Life and Times of St Lawrence the Martyr
“Stained glass window depicting Lawrence installed in St Lawrence Jewery–
note the gridiron in the semi-circular window above his head”
St Lawrence is thought to have been born on 31 December AD 225 in Valencia, or less probably, in Huesca (Osca) a town in Aragon at the foot of the Pyranees, the town from which his parents came. Aragon was then part of the Roman province of Hispania Tarraconensis. The Martyrs St Orentius (Modern Spanish: San Orencio) and St Patientia (Modern Spanish: Santa Paciencia) are traditionally held to have been his parents. As a youth he went to Zaragoza (Capital of the Aragon region of Spain) to complete his humanistic and theological studies. It was here that he first encountered the future Pope Sixtus II, who was of Greek origin. Sixtus was a teacher in what was then recognised as one of the most renowned centres of learning, and the future Pope was one of the most famous and esteemed of its teachers. Eventually, both left Spain for Rome and when Sixtus became Pope in 257 he ordained his protégé as a deacon, Lawrence was around 32 years old at the time. Though Lawrence was still relatively young, Sixtus appointed him first among the seven deacons who served in the patriarchal church, and he was therefore called "Archdeacon of Rome".
As we are all aware though our traditions, Lawrence was a Christian during a very dangerous era for his faith, and as Archdeacon of Rome held the responsibility as the "keeper of the treasures of the church", and also for the distribution of alms to the poor and infirm. He lived during the reign of the Roman Emperor Valerian (c.200 - 260) who reigned from 253 to 260.  Emperor Valerian mounted a persecution against the Christians, and Pope Sixtus was subsequently arrested and beheaded along with some of his deacons. At this time the Christians who were arrested generally had no trial and were sentenced to death and then usually thrown into pits without proper burials. At the time of the arrest of Pope Sixtus, Lawrence was subject to an inquisition by the Prefect of Rome. The Prefect had learnt that Lawrence was the "keeper of the treasures of the church" and demanded that the riches of the church should be surrendered to Rome. Lawrence agreed to surrender the treasure and requested a short delay so that he could gather all the goods. During the delay Lawrence is said to have distributed the wealth of the church to the poor. The Prefect of Rome was furious and sentenced Lawrence to a slow and lingering death on a grid-iron.
  • Martyrdom of Pope Sixtus II
St Ambrose circa 340 – 397 describes, in an eloquent and emotionally charged style, an account of Lawrence’s life and times, particular the relationship that had developed with the eventual Pope St. Sixtus II. Ambrose’s writings were subsequently taken up by Prudentius, St Augusine and Maximus of Turin amongst others. In the modern era, this is also recorded by Father Francesco Moraglia. Ambrose dwells firstly on the encounter and dialogue of Lawrence and Sixtus. He alludes to the distribution of the Church's goods to the poor and ends by mentioning the grid-iron, the instrument of Lawrence's torture.
According to Ambrose, Lawrence the Deacon is one who lived his life giving supreme witness to Christ. He said St Lawrence wept when he saw his Bishop, Sixtus, led out to his martyrdom. He wept not as much because Sixtus was being taken out to die, but because he, Lawrence, would survive Sixtus! He is said to have cried out to him in a loud voice: 'Where are you going Father, without your son? Where do you hasten to holy Bishop without your Deacon? You cannot offer sacrifice without a minister. Father, are you displeased with something in me? Do you think me unworthy? Show us a sign that you have found a worthy minister.”
In reply Sixtus says: "I will not leave you, I will not abandon you my son. More difficult trials are kept for you. A shorter race is set for us who are older. For you who are young a more glorious triumph over tyranny is reserved. Soon, you will see, cry no more, after three days you will follow me. It is fitting that such an interval should be set between Bishop and Levite. It would not have been fitting for you to die under the guidance of a martyr, as though you needed help from him. Why do you want to share in my martyrdom? I leave its entire inheritance to you. Why do you need me present? The weak pupil precedes the master, the strong, who have no further need of instruction, follow and conquer without him. Thus Elijah left Elisha. I entrust the success of my strength to you".
  • Trials and Tribulations of Lawrence
As mentioned previously, as a result of his close relationship with Pope Sixtus, it was known that he acted as the steward over the Church's property. He was arrested in 258 and was said to have been placed under the watch of an official named Hippolytus. It is suggested that whilst in in prison Lawrence cured the blind Lucillus, and several other blind persons. Impressed thereby, Hippolytus witnessing these miracles then embraced the faith and subsequently died a martyr himself. Ordered by the authorities to surrender the treasures of the Church, Lawrence asked for 2 / 3 days (dependent on which account you read) during which to gather them. The Ambrose account suggests that Sixtus told Lawrence that he would follow his Martyrdom in 3 days (one account –Catholic Encyclopaedia - suggests that the Martyrdom happened on the 4th day) - which obviously included a period (2/3 days?) to gather together the Treasures of the Church to present to the Judge. The request was granted by the Judge and Lawrence subsequently brought together in the house of Hippolytus, the poor and the sick whom he had supported. These he led to the judge: "Here are the treasures of the Church!"
As a consequence, Lawrence was then tortured, scourged, and scorched with glowing plates. In the midst of excruciating pain he prayed: "Lord Jesus Christ, God from God, have mercy on Your servant!" And he besought the grace of faith for the bystanders.
At a certain point the soldier Romanus is said to have exclaimed: "I see before you an incomparably beautiful youth. Hasten and baptize me."  The legend recounts that Romanus observed how an angel dried the wounds of Lawrence with a linen cloth during his passion.
Again during the night Lawrence was dragged before the judge and threatened with immediate death. But he replied: "My God I honour, and Him alone I serve. Therefore I do not fear your torments; this night shall become as brightest day and as light without any darkness." When placed upon the glowing gridiron, he jested with his executioners and the cruel tyrant, "Now you may turn me over, my body is roasted enough on this side." Shortly after this had been done, he cried again: "At last I am finished; you may now take from me and eat." Then turning to God in prayer said, "I thank You, O Lord, that I am permitted to enter Your portals."
It is suggested that to comfort him during his torments God said to him: "My servant, do not be afraid, I am with you."
As related earlier, Saint Lawrence, when imprisoned in 258 (which would suggest he was 32-33 years of age at his death) was placed under the jurisdiction of Hippolytus, the Roman gaoler. After Saint Lawrence was martyred Hippolytus ensured that he was given a Christian burial. The body of St. Lawrence was buried in the catacomb of Cyriaca outside the walls of Rome. Sometime before 335, in recognition of St. Lawrence's popularity among Roman Christians, Emperor Constantine commissioned a basilica to be built over the martyr's grave (Constantine’s story and influences provided the foundation for the establishment of the Military and Masonic Order of the Red Cross of Constantine, and, encouraged by his mother (St) Helena and Eusebius, Constantine had given his support to Christianity during his years as Emperor). The martyr's tomb can be seen today protected by an iron grating in the crypt beneath the high altar of the Basilica of ‘St. Lawrence Outside the Walls’. The grill on which the saint was martyred is said to be preserved beneath the high altar in Rome's Church of St. Lawrence in Lucina.
  • Church of St Lawrence in Rome
The Basilica of St. Lawrence ‘Outside the Walls’, is so-called because of its location outside the old city walls, and is one of the great churches of Rome.  Although overshadowed by St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican, as well as by St. Paul Outside the Walls and St. John in Lateran, it is nevertheless a beloved and popular pilgrimage destination.  Aside from its antiquity, it is home to the tomb of Lawrence, one of the oldest Catholic saints, as well as possibly the tomb of St. Stephen.  St. Lawrence’s is one of the seven ancient pilgrimage churches of Rome and one of five Patriarchal Basilicas (representing Jerusalem).  The Basilica of St. Lawrence outside The Wall is part of the Vatican City UNESCO World Heritage Site.
“St Lawrence Basilica ‘Outside the Walls’ in Rome”
  • Church of St Lawrence in London
As an interesting aside, the Church of St Lawrence Jewery in London is the official church of the Lord Mayor of London and the City of London Corporation, and stands in the Yard of the Guildhall. There has been a church on the present site since the twelfth century. The first church is thought to have been built in 1136, and was destroyed in the Great Fire of London. The church was one of many re-built by Sir Christopher Wren. Work began in 1670 and was completed in 1677. It was one of Wren's most expensive City Churches.
“St Lawrence Jewery, viewed from Guildhall Yard in London”
I understand that the term ‘Jewry’ is in fact a geographical description. Before the great fire of 1666 there were many churches in the City (about 150+) and some had the same saint's name. To distinguish them another title was attached. This is why so many of the City churches have interesting and odd names. This particular church is located close to a street called ‘Old Jewry’. This is where a Jewish community lived from 1066 to 1290. They came to the country with William the Conqueror and were expelled by Edward I. Hence St Lawrence Jewry. 
After extensive damage in the Second World War, the church was again re-built. From the book “Order of the Allied Masonic Degrees” by Harold Prestige (Updated by Fredrick Smyth) we learn that the weather vane on the steeple was in the form of a grid iron, and, since the damage in the second world war, the damaged steeple has been reconstructed using glass fibre and surmounted by the original grid iron incorporated with the motif of an incendiary bomb, presumably as a reminder of the effects of the damage done in the war.
“St Lawrence Jewery Weather Vane”
  • St. Lawrence, Patron Saint
St Lawrence is a Patron Saint of the Poor, additionally I understand that he is a Patron Saint of Cooks and Comedians. It is very evident why he can be considered a Patron Saint of the Poor, but what is the logic for linking his name to cooks and comedians? Well, both seem to relate to his Martyrdom when the legend suggests that he demonstrated a degree of humour amidst his torment and suffering, requesting, “Now you may turn me over, my body is roasted enough on this side.” Shortly after this had been done, he spoke again: "At last I am finished; you may now take from me and eat.” I have also read along the way that he is considered a Patron Saint of Bankers (Keeper of the Treasures of the Church) amongst a number of others.
  • Final Comment
Thus is related my brief version of the story of this revered Saint, based on an account of Lawrence by Ambrose and others. By these accounts St Lawrence, but a young man at the time of his Martyrdom, was truly a fearless man of God. Brethren, we can derive spiritual strength from Lawrence’s acceptance of a horrific death in preference to being forced to deviate from his Faith and beliefs. Assuredly we can wear the emblem of the Grid Iron on our lapels with pride, both as an insignia of our order and in memory of a remarkable man of God.
Article Courtesy of the Coccium (Curry) Knight.