St. Lawrence

St. Lawrence is one of the most well-known deacon saints, notably for his method of martyrdom (being burned alive on a gridiron), and for the waterway bearing in name in the US and Canada. The Gulf of St. Lawrence was so named because the French explorer Jacques Cartier first arrived there on St. Lawrence's feast day in 1535.


Lifetime: 225 to 258
Region: Rome
Patronages: Comedians; Firefighters; Librarians
Iconograpy: Gridiron; Deacon robes; Censer
Feast Day: August 10

Lawrence was born in a region of what is now Spain, which was at the time a Roman province. According to church tradition, both of Lawrence's parents, Saints Orentius and Patientia, were also martyred for their faith.

Before his famous martyrdom, however, Lawrence was a layperson who happened to meet a wise teacher in his home town. That teacher would go on to become Pope Sixtus II (the same Sixtus that is referenced in the Communicantes of the Roman Canon during Mass alongside Lawrence himself). Both left Spain for Rome, where Sixtus was eventually appointed Pope.

When his friend became Pope Sixtus II, Lawrence was appointed a Deacon of Rome, though he was only about 30. He served his role faithfully, but only a year after Sixtus' election the Roman emperor began executing Christians for their faith. Sixtus was one of the first victims and was beheaded by the Roman authorities. The other six deacons who served alongside Lawrence were also killed.

Then the Roman prefect approached Lawrence, demanding that he hand over the church's riches to the Roman government. Lawrence asked for three days to collect together the treasures, to which the prefect agreed.

Rather than doing as the emperor's men asked, Lawrence instead took those three days to distribute all the goods he could to the poor, including, according to legend, the Holy Grail itself, the chalice that Jesus blessed during the Last Supper. Many ancient texts and other artifacts are still around today only because of Lawrence's quick thinking.

The Roman prefect did not appreciate the deceit, however. When he asked Lawrence for the church's treasure, Lawrence brought the poor people in the church (the same to whom he had secretly given the riches), and said:

"Behold in these poor persons the treasures which I promised to show you; to which I will add pearls and precious stones, those widows and consecrated virgins, which are the Church's crown."

The prefect was irate, and assigned Lawrence a much more painful death than Sixtus and the other deacons had received: he would be roasted alive on a gridiron. 

Lawrence's faith sustained him through even this torture, though. After a period of agonizing torture, Lawrence joked:

"I'm well done on this side. Turn me over!"

For his quick thinking in protecting the church's tomes and treasures, St. Lawrence is the patron saint of librarians and archivists. For his jovial humor even in the midst of a horrific death, he is the patron saint of comedians. And because the church herself is not without humor, he is also the patron saint of cooks and firefighters. 

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