Get ready to marvel at shooting stars and make a wish because, like every year, the night of St Lawrence in Italy is just around the corner. Italian Traditions shares some interesting trivia about one of the most magical nights of the year.
The astronomy and tradition behind the night of St Lawrence
The night of St Lawrence falls on August 10 but the show lasts for a few days, approximately up to August 13. This span of time is determined by the Swift- Tuttle comet’s cyclical crossing, along with its trail of debris, namely the Perseid meteor shower, which meets Earth’s orbit. What stands out about this comet is it huge size: for this reason, it generates a lot of meteoroids. Dust and ice fragments enter Earth’s atmosphere at great speed thus producing the spectacular light trails, commonly known as shooting stars.
Noticed for the first time in 36 A.C., Perseids are also famously known as St Lawrence’s tears. Exactly on August 10 of the year 158 A.C. is when the martyrdom of St Lawrence took place. An edict by the Roman emperor Valerian declared that bishops and priests be persecuted until dead, for this reason the archdeacon was burned alive. The tale is open to two interpretations: according to one of them the shooting stars represent the tears shed by the saint during his martyrdom, whilst according to the other they symbolize the burning coals.
According to traditional folklore, in the night of St Lawrence in Italy who remembers the pain of the Saint, and looking as the shooting stars, makes a wish will see that wish come true. From ancient times, stars have been interpreted as a symbol of divine manifestations, good and bad, and as a result they have always been linked to the concept of wishes coming true. Up to the 17th century, astronomy was referred to with the term astrology: the horoscope, in fact, is a means to read what is in one’s stars. Another possible origin of this tradition is to be found in the “De bello Gallico” , a work written by Julius Ceasar where he tells the story of how he conquered Gaul: the “desiderantes” were the soldiers who would have to stay up to guard should any of the other soldiers need help after having been in battle, soldiers who the desiderantes ardently wished would come back alive.
Throughout the Italian peninsula, the night of St Lawrence is filled with celebration with events and fairs dedicated to the night of the shooting stars. Among the most popular is the one run by Amaseno, a small town in the Frosinone province: in the church of Santa Maria Assunta, which houses a relic of the saint’s blood, a very suggestive religious function is held. In Florence, city of which St Lawrence is co-patron, every year celebrations are held including a parade that leads to the basilica dedicated to the Saint and a dinner in the square with musical entertainment. Another one of the most popular events is Calici di Stelle, conceived to involve many Italian towns and wineries; throughout the evening wine and food tasting activities are held. On Cervia’s beaches you get to stay on the beach all night long with music, food, and fireworks.
For those who would rather go for some peace and quiet with clear skies, it is better to leave the town center so that artificial lighting does not interfere with the view; this way you get to fully enjoy the show of the shooting stars in the middle of nature.