A pleasant 45-minute walk west from the apartment is the Quartiere San Lorenzo, a neighborhood named after the church Saint Lawrence Outside the Walls.
San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura is one of Rome’s most venerable and ancient churches. Next door to it is the wonderful Verano cemetery. La Sapienza, Rome’s leading university (founded in 1303!), is also nearby and gives the area an energetic college student vibe.
San Lorenzo is a beautiful church, filled to the rafters with wonderful things. It starts on the portico, before you even enter the church, where there are lovely frescoes and an ancient Roman sarcophagus that I fell in love with.
Inside, the church is larger than it appears from the front. You can feel the history that resides in this grand old church.
Saint Lawrence was an early deacon in Rome. In 258 C.E. When ordered to turn over the Church’s treasures to a Roman official, he instead secretly gave away the Church’s wealth to the poor. The Roman official had him tortured to death as punishment — by roasting him over a pit of hot coals. Legend says that at one point during his torture Lawrence said, “I’m done on this side, time to turn me over.” Little wonder he became the patron saint of cooks — and comedians.
Saint Lawrence is said to be buried at this church. Saint Stephen, another martyred deacon, is also said to lie here. Saint Stephen was allegedly stoned to death in Jerusalem, but his relics were brought here during the construction of the basilica. The remains of Saint Lawrence apparently welcomed those of Saint Stephen by miraculously moving over to make room in the tomb.
The most amazing thing about this church, though, is not the martyrs that repose there, but that the church is still here. Despite its ancient appearance, the church had to be painstakingly rebuilt after being destroyed by allied bombing in WWII. The Allies recognized other parts of Rome as too historic or beautiful to hit, and therefore spared them from destruction. However, they considered San Lorenzo quarter to be an industrial area and bombed it, causing considerable damage. For those interested in Rome’s WWII history, there are photos of Pope Pius XII addressing the residents of San Lorenzo after the bombing. When you look around the church, there are a few hints of this tragic, recent past.
On a happier note, this is one of the many churches that indulge my love for the magnificent floors of Rome. For those who follow this blog, you know this means a post on San Lorenzo’s floors is coming up next!