At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Friday, 22 July 2016

St Lawrence of Brindisi

Talented linguist who converted Jews and Protestants


A statue of St Lawrence at the Convent of Capuchin Friars in Rovigo, in the Veneto
A statue of St Lawrence at the Convent of
Capuchin Friars in Rovigo, in the Veneto
St Lawrence of Brindisi was born Giulio Cesare Russo on this day in 1559 in Brindisi.

He became a Roman Catholic priest and joined the Capuchin friars, taking the name Brother Lawrence.

He was made St Lawrence in 1881, remembered for his bravery leading an army against the Turks armed only with a crucifix.

Lawrence was born into a family of Venetian merchants and was sent to Venice to be educated. He joined the Capuchin order in Verona when he was 16 and received tuition in theology, philosophy and foreign languages from the University of Padua. He progressed to be able to speak many European and Semitic languages fluently.

Pope Clement VIII gave Lawrence the task of converting Jews living in Rome to Catholicism because of his excellent command of Hebrew. Lawrence also established Capuchin monasteries in Germany and Austria and brought many Protestants back to Catholicism.

The Palazzo Bo at the University of Padua, where Lawrence acquired his command of languages
The Palazzo Bo at the University of Padua, where
Lawrence acquired his command of languages
While serving as the imperial chaplain to the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolph II, he led an army against the Ottoman Turks threatening to conquer Hungary armed only with a crucifix and many people attributed the subsequent victory to his leadership.

He was later sent to be papal nuncio to Bavaria and then to Spain. Lawrence eventually retired to live in a monastery in Spain but was recalled to be a special envoy to the King of Spain in order to intercede on behalf of the rulers of the Kingdom of Naples.

His mission, made in the sweltering summer heat, exhausted him and he died on 22 July 1619, his 60th birthday, in Lisbon.

Lawrence was beatified in 1783 by Pope Pius VI and canonised in 1881 by Pope Leo XIII. He was declared a doctor of the Church by Pope John XXIII in 1959.

The feast day of St Lawrence is celebrated on 21 July each year.

A feature in Brindisi, birthplace of St Lawrence, are the remains of two columns marking the end of the Appian Way
A feature in Brindisi, birthplace of St Lawrence, are the
remains of two columns marking the end of the Appian Way
Travel tip:

Brindisi, the birthplace of St Lawrence, is a coastal city in Apulia in southern Italy. Its port is still important today for trade with Greece and the Middle East. The city has two Roman columns, thought to have once marked the end of the Appian Way from Rome, which were used as a port reference for sailors out at sea centuries ago.

Travel tip:

The University of Padua, where St Lawrence became proficient in languages, was established in 1222 and is one of the oldest in the world, second in Italy only to the University of Bologna. The main university building, Palazzo del Bò in Via VIII Febbraio in the centre of Padua, used to house the medical faculty. You can take a guided tour to see the pulpit used by Galileo when he taught at the university between 1592 and 1610.

(Photo of St Lawrence statue in Brindisi by Threecharlie CC BY-SA 3.0)

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