We’re still trekking through the saints of the early Church, and today brings us to St. Lawrence of Rome. He was born in Huesca, Spain around the year 225. As a young man, he travelled to Zaragoza, where he met Sixtus II (can you believe it’s this guy again?), and went with him to Rome. Lawrence was ordained by Sixtus as the first of seven deacons in Rome, given the title of “archdeacon.” At this time, the deacon’s job was a very practical one, as they were in charge of the material needs of the seven regions in Rome and cared for the treasury of the Church. They would use this treasury for the distribution of alms and food among the poor of the city.
After Pope Sixtus II was killed in August of 258 by the decree of Emperor Valerian, the prefect of the city captured Lawrence and demanded that as archdeacon and caretaker of the treasury, he would hand over the riches of the Church. Lawrence asked that he would have three days to gather the wealth, which he promptly used to distribute as much property and riches to the poor as he could to prevent it from being seized (C’mon, prefect! You should have seen that one coming!).
On the 3rd day, Lawrence gathered together a group of Christians from the streets of the city – poor, crippled, blind, sick and suffering – and led them to the prefect. He presented them saying, “Here is the treasure of the Church. The Church is truly rich, far richer than your emperor.”
Clearly, the prefect didn’t really find this to be funny, and had his men prepare a gridiron with hot coals beneath it. Lawrence was then bound and placed on the grill! As you can already see, Lawrence was known for his sense of humor, and after being left on the gridiron for a while, he made the famous cheerful remark: “I’m well done on this side. Turn me over!” Hence, St. Lawrence is the patron of cooks, chefs, and in particular, grillmasters.
St. Lawrence’s body was buried outside the walls of Rome, where it remains to this day. Over the tomb was built the minor basilica of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls, which is considered one of the seven major basilicas in Rome, alongside St. Peter’s and St. Paul Outside the Walls. Lawrence was clearly held in high esteem in the early Roman Church, and even today, we celebrate his feast with a higher solemnity than most other saints.
Oh yeah, and the gridiron used in his martyrdom was preserved in the church of San Lorenzo in Lucina, also in Rome. Sounds like a new destination just made it onto my dream Roman itinerary!