Shooting stars and the night of San Lorenzo

The shooting stars visible to the naked eye on the night of San Lorenzo are called Perseids, as they come from the constellation of Perseus. They form a meteor shower that the Earth passes through in the summer, during its orbit around the sun. Visible from the end of July to the end of August, in the past the meteor shower reached its peak of intensity between August 10 and 12, although with the passing of the centuries this period is moving forward by a few days to August 12-13.

The first observations of the Perseids date back to 36 AD., thanks to astronomical studies carried out in China.
Once considered as divine signs, shooting stars were interpreted in various ways by the different populations of the world, but they were almost always seen as ominous signs. For example, in Sparta, the king was subjected to the judgment of the stars every 9 years: if during the ninth year a shooting star was sighted, this was considered an unfavorable sign sent by the gods and therefore the king was deposed.
Today this night is called the night of San Lorenzo because the phenomenon of shooting stars was connected to the martyrdom of the saint which took place in 258 AD.
Lorenzo was one of the seven deacons of Rome, he was 33 when he was martyred. Following an edict issued by the Roman emperor Valerian according to which all bishops, presbyters and deacons were to be put to death, he was burned on the gridiron.
Legend has it that during this torture the saint turned to his captors and declared: "Turn me around, I'm already cooked on this side!".
The sparks from the gridiron were later associated with the shooting stars observable in the period around which the saint was martyred. Thus was born the tradition of the night of San Lorenzo.

San Lorenzo has always had a special place in the hearts of Florentines, so much so that what is considered the first Florentine basilica was dedicated to him.
In medieval Florence it was customary to celebrate San Lorenzo by roasting quarters of ox on the embers, and then distributing them to the people. According to some, precisely from this tradition connected to the night of San Lorenzo, was born the famous bistecca alla fiorentina (Florentine steak), one of the local traditional dishes.
Apparently, a few English merchants passing through Florence during these celebrations asked for the juicy slices of beef exclaiming "Beef steak!", an expression then transposed into Florentine with "bistecca”.

Nowadays the reason why observing the night sky in August is so fascinating is also the possibility to make a wish if you see a shooting star. This tradition could have several origins. It could be linked to ancient Rome and De Bello Gallico, where Cesare minutely described his military campaign. In the text, the "desiderantes" were the soldiers who waited under the stars for their comrades who had not yet returned from the battle that took place during the day, hoping to see them again.
It could also be a tradition born at sea, where sailors were guided by the stars hoping to sight land soon.
In the Christian tradition, however, the shooting star is the one that guides the Magi towards the Child Jesus, the only hope of redemption for humanity.

Whatever the origin of this custom was, it became a beloved summer tradition. The shooting stars shower is a phenomenon that has fascinated manking since ancient times, and that has inspired numerous works of art and poetic verses, such as the very famous ones by Giovanni Pascoli, who in his poem X Agosto interprets the rain of stars as celestial tears.
There really is something magical about sending our wishes to the stars, which seem to listen and respond, if you're lucky, with a sign.

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