On August 10, in the year 258 A.D., during the reign of the Roman Emperor Valerian, just a few days after the capture and execution of Pope Sixtus II, Laurentius, a deacon of Rome was executed in horrific fashion, being roasted to death on an iron rack.
At that same time, the Earth was passing through the trail of dust and debris left by the comet Swift-Tuttle, a large icy body that circles the sun 130-year year orbit, an annual occurrence, that produces a meteor shower with a radiant point in the constellation Perseus, know as the Perseids.
How are these two events connected?
Because Saint Lawrence’s feast day falls on August 10, the day of his Martyrdom, the same day as the typical peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower, this dazzling astronomical event came to be known among Catholics in late antiquity and the middle ages as the “Saint Lawrence’s Tears”.
The tradition among the Catholic faithful compared the annual Perseid meteor shower to the sparks of the fire upon which the saint was martyred, and that when they fell to the Earth, it was the saint’s tears, cooling the fires.
One Catholic tradition even said that if a person waters a basil plant and leaves it outside on the night of the meteor shower, they will find coal chips in the ground under the plants, which were known as the “coal of Saint Lawrence”.
This year, the peak of the meteoric activity is predicted to be between August 10-13, with the best viewing times being around 2:00 AM in your local area when the constellation Perseus is high in the sky. According to NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke, this year’s shower should feature 60 to 70 meteors per hour at its peak.
For those planning to observe the Tears of Saint Lawrence, here is a visual guide of where to look for the best viewing results prepared by NASA: