Our Patron Saint

St. Lawrence Deacon & Martyr

St. Lawrence was one among the seven deacons who served the Roman church; this was a charge of great trust, to which was annexed the care of the goods of the church, and the distribution of its alms among the poor.  There are few martyrs in the Church whose names are as famous as that of St. Lawrence, in whose praises the most illustrious among the Latin fathers have written, and whose triumph, to use the words of St. Maximus, the whole Church joins in a body to honor with universal joy and devotion.

The Emperor Valerian in 257 published his edicts against Christians and Pope St. Sixtus, the second of that name, was apprehended the year following and put to death; on the fourth day after the faithful Lawrence followed him to martyrdom.  That is all that is known for certain of the life and death of St. Lawrence, but Christian piety has adopted and consecrated as its own the details supplied by St. Ambrose, the poet Prudentius, and others; though it must be regretfully admitted that good reasons have been adduced for doubting the historical reliability of such moving incidents as St. Lawrence’s presentation of the goods of the Church, and the manner of his martyrdom.

According to these traditions, as Pope St. Sixtus was led to execution, his deacon Lawrence followed him weeping, and said to him, “Father, where are you going without your deacon?”  The pope answered, “I do not leave you, my son.  You shall follow me in three days.”  Lawrence was filled with joy, hearing that he should be so soon called to God; he set out immediately to seek all the poor, widows and orphans, and gave among them the money which he had in his hands; he even sold sacred vessels to increase the sum, employing it all in the same way.

Emperor Valerian heard of the riches of the church and sent for St. Lawrence, and said to him, “You Christians often complain that we treat you with cruelty, but no tortures are here thought of; I only inquire mildly after what concerns you.  I am informed that your priests offer in gold, that the sacred blood is received in silver cups, and that in your nocturnal sacrifices you have wax tapers fixed in golden candlesticks.  Bring out these treasures; the emperor has need of them for the maintenance of his forces.”

St. Lawrence replied, without showing any concern, “The Church is indeed rich; nor hath the emperor any treasure equal to what it possesses.  I will show you a valuable part; but allow me a little time to set everything in order, and to make an inventory.”  Then Lawrence went all over the city and gathered the poor who were supported by the Church.  On the third day he gathered a large number of them, and placed them in rows, the decrepit, the blind, the lame, the maimed, the lepers, orphans, widows and maidens; then he went to the prefect and invited him to come and see the treasure of the Church.

The prefect saw all of this, and with threatening looks asked Lawrence what all this meant, and where the treasures were which he had promised to show him.  Lawrence replied, “What are you displeased at?  These are the treasure of the Church.”

The Prefect’s anger was doubled, and a rage he shouted, “You mock me!  The ensigns of the Roman power, are not to be insulted!  I know you desire to die, but you will not die immediately, but by inches!”  Then he had a gridiron made ready, and glowing coals put under it, that the martyr might be slowly burnt.  Lawrence was stripped and bound upon this iron bed over the slow fire, which roasted his flesh by little and little.  His face appeared to the Christians to be surrounded with a beautiful light, and his suffering body to give off a sweet smell.  Having suffered a long time, he turned to the judge and said with a cheerful smile, “Let my body be turned; one side is broiled enough.”  When the executioner had turned him he said,  “It is cooked enough, you may eat.”  Then having prayed for the conversion of the city of Rome that the faith of Christ might spread there and throughout the world, St. Lawrence gave up the spirit.

St. Lawrence has been one of the most venerated martyrs of the Roman church since the fourth century, and he is named in the canon of the Mass (Eucharistic Prayer I).  He was certainly buried in the cemetery of Cyriaca in agro Verano on the Via Tiburtina, where Constantine built the first chapel on the site of what is now the church of St. Lawrence-outside-the-Walls, which is the fifth patriarchal basilica of the city of Rome.

Information gathered from Butler’s Lives of the Saints, vol III, 1995.