Aug 10, 2010

Great Typos in History: The Feast of St. Lawrence

I grew up in the Lutheran church, and my folks are from a small German community in Michigan founded by Lutheran missionaries. Frankenmuth, Michigan, now one of the top tourist spots in the state, is renowned for its well-preserved German heritage: its architecture, landscaping, events-- the whole town really-- simply exude Bavarian charm and gemuchlichkeit.

The largest Lutheran church in Frankenmuth is The Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Lorenz (LCMS). Housed in a historic and beautiful structure (built in 1880), the church, at least back in the day, boasted more members than the town's population.

Today, August 10, is the feast day of St. Lawrence, who was martyred in 258, perhaps by being roasted alive.

A few summers ago I was standing at the portico-- the St. Lawrence Portico-- on the north side of the beautiful cathedral in Strasbourg, France, admiring the 15th-century depiction of the event carved over the entrance, and my French host told me some of the legendary details. He told me that Lawrence told his tormenters in the midst of his torture, "I'm done on this side, you better turn me over." As Wikeipedia testifies, this was apparently grounds for making him the patron saint of comedians. Surely, over the centuries, some saint has had a better line? But I digress: My favorite tidbit is the question regarding the method by which he was put to death.

Apparently, some scholars believe that a mistake in transcribing the "solemn and customary formula for announcing the death of a martyr" gave rise to the legend:

"Passus est" (he suffered-- i.e., was martyred) perhaps became "assus est" (he was roasted).

I have no opinion, of course. I wasn't there. All I know is what my friends tell me and what I read on Wikepedia. They source it here.

I don't suppose that martyrdom is really a laughing matter, but I love these stories of this apparently well-beloved deacon and the legends that grow up around most larger-than-life heroes. In fact, I'm downright grateful for the typo that led to the "roasting" legends and the thousands of depictions of Lawrence with a griddle in his hand. We'll all know soon enough what really happened, and then we won't really care. Until then, I'm happy to have something to smile about, linking my fond memories of a little German town in Michigan with the great history of our faith.

No comments:

Post a Comment