Friday, February 8, 2013

St Lawrence in the Square, Winchester

The church of “St Lawrence in the Square”, Winchester, is dedicated to St Lawrence (Laurentius) who was martyred in Rome in the year 258, during the persecution of Christians under the emperor Valerian.
Lawrence is thought to have been born in the province of Huesca in north-east Spain.  He was one of the seven deacons of Rome under Pope Sixtus II in August 258 when the emperor issued an edict commanding that all bishops, priests, and deacons should immediately be put to death.  Sixtus himself was executed on 7 August with the other six deacons;  legend tells that Lawrence followed the pope and his captors to the place of execution, where Sixtus told him, “My son, I am not leaving you. In a few days you will follow me.”

Lawrence was the steward of the property and wealth of the church.  It was his duty to provide alms to those in need.  The prefect of Rome, Cornelius Saecularis, believing that the Church was wealthy, ordered that everything of value be turned over to the emperor for the upkeep of his armies.  The prefect said, “I understand that according to your teaching you must render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.  Your God brought no money into the world – He brought only words.  So give us the money, and you can keep the words.”
Lawrence assembled hundreds of poor people – lepers, blind, widows, orphans, and the aged – and presented them to the prefect, saying “These are the treasures of the Church”.  For this the furious prefect ordered Lawrence to be slowly roasted to death on a gridiron.  This was done on 10 August 258.

There is no question that Lawrence was a real historical personage, nor any doubt of the date and place of his martyrdom.  Scholars dispute the gridiron story on the grounds that a Roman citizen would have been beheaded;  but it is not certain that Lawrence was a citizen, nor that the prefect could be counted on to observe the law if he were.   The gridiron remains the usual emblem of St Lawrence; sometimes in art he is also shown with a money-bag to recall his almsgiving.
The Church of St. Lawrence in Winchester has been a place of quiet contemplation and prayer for almost 900 years. It is built upon the site of the Chapel Royal of the Palace of William the Conqueror.

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