Look up at the night sky tomorrow, and you are spiritually connected to millions of other watchers across the northern latitudes, as well as millions more who have gazed in wonder through eons of recorded time.
This is the time of the Tears of Saint Lawrence. The Perseids. The thousand points of light that soundlessly rip across the inky heavens each hour of this remarkable night.
This year's Perseid meteor shower will peak tomorrow night into early Monday morning. These celestial apparitions have borne different messages for different peoples throughout history.
One thing is common, though: the understanding that meteors are extraordinary.
In Switzerland, a meteor was thought to possess the power of God.
Swabians believed that a shooting star forecast a year of good fortune, but if you saw three in one night, you would die.
In Chile, you have to pick up a stone when you see a meteor.
In the Philippines, you must tie a knot in a handkerchief before the meteor’s light fades.
Many Hawaiian Japanese open the collars of their kimono to admit the good luck a meteor carries.
In Baltic countries and central Europe, people believed that everyone had a personal star that fell upon his or her death.
Ancient Greeks venerated meteorites (meteors that have fallen to earth), assigning one a place of honor at Apollo's temple at Delphi.
Many other Greek and Roman temples enshrined rocks that had reportedly fallen from heaven.
The holiest shrine of Islam at Mecca houses a venerated relic thought to be a meteorite. Tradition has it that the angel Gabriel gave the black rock to the patriarch Abraham, who built it into his house. The rock passed to the prophet Mohammed, who built it into the wall of the Ka'ba.
Meteorites have been found at Native American grave sites in the U.S., suggesting that they were worshipped.
Science has stripped The Perseids of their magic, myth, and mystery. We now know the extraterrestrial lights are not messages of gods or angels, but only the dust and rocks that trail the Swift-Tuttle comet on its 133-year trip around the sun.
As our planet crosses the comet’s orbit, this debris is caught up in our atmosphere and burns. The resulting streaks appear to us to radiate from the constellation Perseus (named for a son of Zeus best known for slaying monsters).
The phenomenon is best seen in the northern hemisphere from late July to early August, peaking around the night of August 10, the Roman Catholic feast of Saint Lawrence. This year, peak viewing is the night of August 12.
The name “Tears of Saint Lawrence” comes from the association with the deacon who was martyred on August 10, 258, during the persecution of Christians by the Roman emperor, Valerian.
Lawrence was the treasurer of the nascent Church. He was summoned before the Roman authorities, ordered to bring with him all the wealth of the Church.
Lawrence showed up with a handful of the crippled, poor, and sick. He explained, "This is the true wealth of the Church."
“Not funny,” his executioners agreed, and he was immediately sentenced to be “cooked alive” on a gridiron.
Legend has it that his last utterance was a one-liner: “Turn me over, I’m done on this side!”
Saint Lawrence is honored today as the patron of cooks and comedians.
Looking northeast at 11 P. M.
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