St Laurence and a bishop saint. Gherardo di Jacopo di Neri, active in Florence c 1360 – 1409/1413. Painting, tempera and gold on panel. LACMA. Image © L M Clancy.
Laurence is at peace with his hand upon the grill, resting with one knee up and holding his bible and palm branch with a casualness unlike the clutching bishop next to him. Laurence does not look happy, nor sad, but has a faint smile -- it is serenity.
Lived ? - 258
Rank and group: Martyr
Feast day: August 10
Patron saint: Cooks, libraries
Status: Roman Martyrology
According to a very early tradition, Saint Lawrence was born at Huesca, Aragon, Spain. His family migrated to Rome, where he joined the clergy as one of the seven deacons of the city under Pope Saint Sixtus II. The pope was arrested amidst a surge in persecution, and three days after the pope's death Lawrence himself was executed.
Laurence's martyrdom by being roasted alive must have deeply impressed the Roman Christians, and he has been the most celebrated the Roman martyrs. His name is mentioned in the canon of the Mass and he is venerated in the West and the East. His historical endurance is exemplified in the writings of SS Ambrose, Leo the Great, Augustine and the Spanish poet Prudentius.
Prudentius says that his death was the death of idolatry in Rome, which thenceforth declined. Lawrence was buried on the Via Tiburtina, at the Campus Veranus, where his basilica now stands.
Lawrence was deacon to the pope, and upon the latter's arrest he gave to Lawrence the books of the church and all their treasures.
Lawrence hid the books but sold the treasures so he could give the proceeds to the poor. When the prefect of Rome demanded from Lawrence the church's treasures, he did not say what he had done with them but merely asked for three days to collect them. When Lawrence came to the prefect to give him the treasures, he presented him the poor widows, orphans, sick, helpless and other down-and-outs of Rome. He responded to the prefect's questions by insisting, "These are the church's treasures, the poor of Christ."
This story reflects why the authorities feared him: he was able to collect and give strength and hope to the poor underbelly of Roman society.
By the emperor's orders, Saint Lawrence was executed by being roasted alive.
He is famous for his endurance of his agonizing death, maintaining his peace and great wit. He is alleged to have called out at one point, "I think I'm done on this side, why not turn me over?" Lawrence's ability to stay positive and jest in the midst of torture is part of why he is considered so special. This serenity was not just courage, but a serenity that came from his complete trust in God. He knew what awaited him in death, no matter how awful his earthly fate.