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To Grill or Not to Grill: Commemorating a Saint’s Martyrdom

If the stories about him are true, St. Lawrence would probably appreciate this bit of perverse humor

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The patron saint of cooks, St. Lawrence. Image courtesy of Wikicommons

I don’t know whether or not the members of Depeche Mode were right when they asserted in their 1984 song “Blasphemous Rumours” that “God has a sick sense of humor.” But I’m pretty sure that whoever decided that St. Lawrence should be the patron saint of cooks—or, more specifically, grilling—had a dark funny bone. You see, Lawrence, a deacon in Rome during the third century, met his martyrdom being roasted alive on a gridiron.

If the stories about him are true, the saint would probably appreciate this bit of perverse humor. He is said to have greeted his death cheerfully, quipping something along the lines of, “Turn me over, this side is done.”

What will Catholics eat today in honor of the saint’s feast day? Some traditions call for cold cuts and other uncooked foods, in pious avoidance of anything that would too closely resemble Lawrence’s burned flesh.

But others go the opposite direction, celebrating the manner of his death with a barbecue. As Evelyn Vitz, author of A Continual Feast: A Cookbook to Celebrate the Joys of Family & Faith throughout the Christian Year explains on her blog, “We decided that serving barbecued chicken is a great way to signify his triumph over the fire.” A contributor at the Catholic Cuisine blog interprets the theme another way, with cupcakes decorated to look like grills, complete with little shish kebabs made of frosting.

Some scholars now believe that Lawrence was actually beheaded. I don’t even want to think about what this would mean for his feast day menu.

If your culinary endeavors require the assistance of more than one patron saint, never fear. St. Lawrence is only one holy helper in the panoply of saints associated with food:

St. Macarius of Egypt (feast day January 2) is the patron saint of cooks, confectioners and pastry chefs for the straightforward reason that he was a successful merchant of fruits, confections and pastries before he converted and became a monk.

St. Honoré (feast day May 16) is the patron saint of bakers because of the miracle he is said to have performed, turning a baker’s peel into a tree. The French created an edible homage to celebrate his feast day, the decadent cream-filled St. Honoré cake.

St. Arnold (July 8 ) is the patron saint of brewers. The Catholic Drinkie blog explains that this is because the 6th-century Austrian priest spread the gospel of beer throughout the land, as it was considered healthier than disease-carrying water.

St. Martha (feast day July 29) is the patron saint of cooks and housekeepers. According to Catholic Foodie (I had no idea there were so many Catholic-themed food and drink blogs!), this is because she was the one who toiled to clean the house and prepare the food when Jesus came to dinner, while her sister sat adoringly at his feet listening to him speak.

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About Lisa Bramen
Lisa Bramen

Lisa Bramen was a frequent contributor to Smithsonian.com's Food and Think blog. She is based in northern New York and is also an associate editor at Adirondack Life magazine.

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