Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Relics of St Lawrence

Today is the feast of St Lawrence, arguably the greatest martyr of the Roman church after SS Peter and Paul. Tradition asserts that he died by being roasted alive on a grill in 258, although some historians doubt if such was a method of execution that would have been used at the time. Maybe it was its exceptional nature which caused it and its victim to be remembered. He was to be a popular saint, with many ancient churches dedicated to him, and he is frequently depicted in art, and having a long tradition of liturgical commemoration

I remember seeing a reliquary with a bone of St Lawrence at Ampleforth abbey in Yorkshire which is dedicated to him. The bone in it was given to the community in their early years as a Bendictine house by King Philip III of Spain. It has a distinctly barbequed look to it.

RFrom John Dillon's post on the Medieval Religion discussion group I see that in Rome part of the grill on which he was roasted is preserved in in this reliquary the chiesa di San Lorenzo in Lucina and the stone on which his body is said to have been laid after it was removed from the grill is in his basilica of San Lorenzo fuori le Mura

The collegiate church of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Amaseno in southern Lazio, a twelfth-century structure with later additions, has a blood relic of Lawrence that is said to liquefy every year on this day. There is an Italian-language account with a rather different photograph of the relic here. That page also has views of, and an excerpt from, the church's foundation document of 1177 (or from a later copy?), whose listing of its relics includes one of Lawrence's fat. As there are no reports of the liquefaction prior to the seventeenth century (also the date of the present reliquary), the suspicion has been voiced that the present relic may be an early modern substitution. On this see the following scientific account by Luigi Garlasecchi, the leading investigator today of such blood relics, and there is another proposed explanation (by Marcello Guidotti, in Italian) is here.

There is a whole gallery of photographs of the relic here.


An arm reliquary of St Lawrence of c.1175,
Staatliche museum in Berlin

Image: World Gallery of Art

There also survives this rather extrordinary finger reliquary which is now in the Louvre:


A late thirteenth or early fourteenth-century finger reliquary of St Lawrence
Musée du Louvre in Paris

Photo by Genevra Kornbluth:http://www.kornbluthphoto.com/images/LawrenceRel.jpg

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