Lawrence was deacon for Pope Sixtus II. He had two jobs, one of them was looking after all the church’s wealth and the other was distributing alms to the poor. It sounds like there’s a bit of a conflict of interest there, but apparently it wasn’t until the Pope was arrested and put to death by the Emperor Valerian, an enthusiastic persecutor of Christians.
The punishment for being a Christian was death quickly followed by having all your stuff given to the Emperor. Almost immediately Lawrence was asked by the prefect of Rome to turn over all the riches of the church. He asked if he could have three days, just to make sure he’d really collected all of it. Then instead he set about distributing it among the poor. When his time was up he presented to the prefect with the poor, the crippled, the blind and the suffering, these are the true treasures of the church, he said. It was this act of defiance that led directly to his death. The prefect was so angry that he had a huge gridiron prepared, had a fire lit beneath it and put Lawrence on top. The poor saint was roasted alive. A slow and painful death, but he is supposed to have said to his torturers: Turn me over, I’m done on this side. It is this story of his martyrdom that has made him the patron saint of comedians as well as chefs. He is also the patron saint of Tanners, librarians and archivists.
Another legend about Saint Lawrence is that one of the treasures he rescued was the Holy Grail, the chalice used by Jesus at the Last Supper. He had it sent to his parents in Spain and it is now in the Cathedral of Valencia. In the Vatican on Saint Lawrence’s Day a reliquary containing his burnt head is put on display. Nice.
If you look up into the night sky in the next few days and spot the annual Perseid Meteor Shower, you might like to know that they’re also called the Tears of Saint Lawrence.