Saint Lawrence was a revered Roman deacon serving under Pope St. Sixtus II. A mere four days after the Pope’s execution, Lawrence, alongside four clerics, faced martyrdom. Their deaths are believed to have taken place during the persecution led by Emperor Valerian.
Details of his death, which have become legendary over time, were well-documented by figures like Damasus, Prudentius, Ambrose, and Augustine. The church erected above his final resting place became one of Rome’s seven major churches and a renowned destination for pilgrims.
One enduring legend about Saint Lawrence is particularly intriguing. As a deacon in Rome, Lawrence was entrusted with the Church’s material assets and the task of distributing alms to the needy. Sensing his impending arrest following the Pope’s death, Lawrence took a remarkable step. He gave away all available funds to the destitute, widows, and orphans of Rome. He even sold the Church’s sacred vessels to bolster the amount.
When the prefect of Rome caught wind of this act, he presumed the Christians to be hoarding significant treasures. He summoned Lawrence and said, “We’ve heard tales of priests using golden vessels during offerings and evening services illuminated by golden candlesticks. Your teachings advocate giving to Caesar what belongs to him. Hand over these treasures. The emperor needs them for his forces. After all, God doesn’t need material wealth—He values words. So, give us the wealth and keep your words.”
In response, Lawrence assured him of the Church’s immense wealth. Seeking time to prepare an “inventory,” he took three days and then gathered a multitude of Rome’s blind, lame, leprous, orphaned, and widowed. Upon the prefect’s arrival, Lawrence proclaimed, “Behold the treasures of the Church.”
Enraged by this defiance, the prefect devised a torturous death for Lawrence. A large gridiron was prepared with burning coals beneath. Lawrence was placed upon it, and as he endured the agonizing pain, he reportedly quipped with unwavering spirit, “It is well done. Turn me over!”