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St. Lawrence

St Lawrence of Rome (225–258) was born in Osca, Hispania (now Spain). He was one of the seven deacons of ancient Rome serving under Sixtus II who were martyred during the persecution of Valerian in 258. Lawrence is one of the most widely venerated saints of the Roman Catholic Church. He is especially honored in the city of Rome, where he is one of the city's patron saints.


Lawrence is believed to have been born in Spain, at Osca, a town in Aragon, near the foot of the Pyrenees. As a youth he was sent to Saragoza to complete his humanistic and theological studies. It was here that he first encountered the future Pope Sixtus II, who was of Greek origin. The future Pope was one of the most famous and esteemed teachers in what was then one of the most renowned centres of learning. Eventually, both left Spain for Rome. When Sixtus was elevated to patriarch in 257, he ordained Lawrence deacon, and though Lawrence was still young, appointed him first among the seven deacons who served in the patriarchal church; therefore he is called archdeacon of Rome. This was a position of great trust, which included the care of the treasury and riches of the church, and the distribution of alms among the poor.

St Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, notes that Roman authorities had established a norm according to which all Christians who had been denounced must be executed and their goods confiscated by the Imperial treasury. At the beginning of the month of August, 258, the emperor Valerian issued an edict, commanding that all bishops, priests, and deacons should immediately be put to death. Sixtus was captured on August 6, 258 at the cemetery of St. Callixtus while celebrating the liturgy and executed forthwith. Four days later, on the 10th of August, Lawrence, the last of the seven deacons, also suffered a martyr's death.

Holy Chalice

According to lore, among the treasures of the Greek church entrusted to Lawrence for safe-keeping was the Holy Chalice, the cup from which Jesus and the Apostles drank at the Last Supper. Lawrence was able to spirit this away to Huesca, in present day Aragon, with a letter and a supposed inventory, where it lay hidden and unregarded for centuries. When Augustine connects Lawrence with a chalice, it is the chalice of the Mass:

  For in that Church, you see, as you have regularly been told, he performed the office of deacon; it was there that he administered the sacred chalice of Christ's blood.

According to Catholic tradition the Holy Grail is a relic that was sent by St Lawrence to his parents in northern Aragon. He entrusted this sacred chalice to a friend whom he knew would travel back to Huesca, remaining in the monastery of San Juan de la Pena, core of spiritual strength for the emerging kingdom of Aragon. While the Holy Chalice's exact journey through the centuries is disputed, it is generally accepted by Catholics that the Chalice was sent by his family to this monastery for preservation and veneration. Historical records indicate that this chalice has been venerated and preserved by a number of monks and monasteries through the ages. Today the Holy Grail is venerated in a special chapel in the Catholic Cathedral of Valencia, Spain.

Jewels of St Lawrence

After the death of Sixtus, the prefect of Rome demanded that Lawrence turn over the riches of the Church. Ambrose is the earliest source for the tale that Lawrence asked for three days to gather together the wealth. Lawrence worked swiftly to distribute as much Church property to the poor as possible, so as to prevent its being seized by the prefect. On the third day, at the head of a small delegation, he presented himself to the prefect, and when ordered to give up the treasures of the Church, he presented the poor, the crippled, the blind and the suffering, and said that these were the true treasures of the Church. One account records him declaring to the prefect, "The Church is truly rich, far richer than your emperor." This act of defiance led directly to his martyrdom. This can be compared to the parallel Roman tale of the jewels of Cornelia.


By tradition, Lawrence was sentenced at San Lorenzo in Miranda, imprisoned in San Lorenzo in Fonte, and martyred at San Lorenzo in Panisperna. The Almanac of Philocalus for the year 354, mentions that he was buried in the Via Tiburtina in the Catacomb of Cyriaca by Hippolytus and Justinus, a presbyter. One of the early sources for the martyrdom of Saint Lawrence was the description by Aurelius Prudentius Clemens in his Peristephanon, Hymn II.

A well-known legend has persisted from earliest times. As deacon in Rome, Lawrence was charged with the responsibility for the material goods of the Church, and the distribution of alms to the poor. St. Ambrose of Milan relates that when St. Lawrence was asked for the treasures of the Church he brought forward the poor, among whom he had divided the treasure as alms. "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 so angry that he had a great gridiron prepared, with coals beneath it, and had Lawrence's body placed on it,(hence St. Lawrence's association with the gridiron). After the martyr had suffered the pain for a long time, the legend concludes, he made his famous cheerful remark, "It is well done. Turn me over!" From this derives his patronage of cooks and chefs.

Some historians, such as Rev. Patrick Healy, view the traditions of how Lawrence was martyred as "not worthy of credence", as the slow lingering death cannot be reconciled "with the express command contained in the edict regarding bishops, priests, and deacons (animadvertantur) which ordinarily meant decapitation." A theory of how the tradition arose is put forward by Pio Franchi de' Cavalieri. He postulates that it was the result of a mistaken transcription, the accidental omission of the letter "p" – "by which the customary and solemn formula for announcing the death of a martyr – passus est – was made to read assus est ." The Liber Pontificalis, which is held to draw from sources independent of the existing traditions and Acta regarding Lawrence, uses passus est concerning him, the same term it uses for Pope Sixtus II (martyred by beheading during the same persecution).

Constantine I is said to have built a small oratory in honour of the martyr, which was a station on the itineraries of the graves of the Roman martyrs by the seventh century. Pope Damasus I rebuilt or repaired the church, now known as San Lorenzo fuori le Mura, while the minor basilica of San Lorenzo in Panisperna was built over the place of his martyrdom. The gridiron of the martyrdom was placed by Pope Paschal II in the church of San Lorenzo in Lucina.


Early on, the life and miracles of St. Lawrence were collected in a work titled, The Acts of St. Lawrence, which is now lost. The earliest existing documentation of miracles associated with St. Lawrence is found in the writings of St. Gregory of Tours (538–594), who mentions the following:

A priest named Fr. Sanctulus was rebuilding a church of St. Lawrence, which had been attacked and burnt, and hired many workmen to accomplish the job. At one point during the construction, he found himself with nothing to feed them. He prayed to St. Lawrence for help, and looking in his basket he found a fresh, white loaf of bread, it seemed to him too small to feed the workmen, but in faith he began to serve it to the men. While he broke the bread, it so multiplied that that his workmen fed from it for ten days.


Lawrence is one of the most widely venerated saints of the Roman Catholic Church. Legendary details of his death were known to Damasus, Prudentius, Ambrose and Augustine. The church built over his tomb became one of the seven principal churches in Rome and a favorite place for Roman pilgrimages. Devotion to him was widespread by the fourth century. Since the Perseid Meteor Shower typically occurs every year in mid-August, on or near Saint Lawrence's feast day, some refer to the shower as the "Tears of Saint Lawrence."

St Lawrence is especially honoured in the city of Rome, where he is one of the city's patrons. There are several churches in Rome dedicated to him, including San Lorenzo in Panisperna, traditionally identified as the place of his execution. He is invoked by librarians, archivists, cooks, and tanners as their patron. His celebration on 10 August has the rank of feast throughout the entire Catholic world. On this day, the reliquary containing his burnt head is displayed in the Vatican for veneration.

The Escorial Palace, situated at the foot of Mt. Abantos in the Sierra de Guadarrama, was built by King Philip II of Spain to commemorate the victory of Spanish forces over those of King Henry II of France at the Battle of St Quentin, which took place on the feast of St Lawrence on 10 August 1557. To honour the martyr, the entire floor plan of this imposing edifice was laid out in the form of a gridiron, the means by which St Lawrence was martyred.

French explorer Jacques Cartier gave the name of Saint Lawrence to the widest river estuary in the world. At the mouth of this river is the large Gulf of Saint Lawrence, surrounded by all the Canadian Maritime provinces. Closer to the source of this river are the Laurentian mountains (north of the city of Montreal), the major Montreal borough of Saint-Laurent (borough), as well as the famed Saint Lawrence Boulevard that spans the full 11.25 km width of the island of Montreal. Further upstream, on the south side of the river near its source at Lake Ontario, is St. Lawrence County, New York.

St Lawrence is the patron saint of the monks of Ampleforth Abbey. St Lawrence is also venerated by Anglo-Catholics. A major church in Sydney, Australia, situated in the former civil (land division) parish of St Lawrence, is called "Christ Church St. Laurence". The Brotherhood of St Laurence also bears his name.


According to Fr. Francesco Moraglia, Professor of Dogmatic Theology, the role of deacon is distinguished by service of the poor. He is destined both to the service of the table (corporal works of mercy) and to the service of the word (spiritual works of mercy). "The beauty, power and the heroism of Deacons such as Lawrence help to discover and come to a deeper meaning of the special nature of the diaconal ministry."


This prayer can be found in the Roman Missal on the saint's feast day, August 10:

O God,

Blessed Lawrence showed forth the fire of his love for you, both by faithful service and glorious martyrdom.

Make us to love the things which he loved,

and to do the works that he taught.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.


In the Breviary of 1962 (now authorized again) the prayer reads:

  O Almighty God,

  Who didst give unto Blessed Lawrence power

  to be more than conqueror in his fiery torment;

  grant unto us, we beseech thee,

  the power to quench the flames of our sinful lusts.

  Through Jesus Christ, we pray



In the Calendar of Feast Days for the Episcopal Church, Holy Women, Holy Men (2010 ed.), the collect for the feast of "Laurence, Deacon and Martyr at Rome" on August 10 reads:

  Almighty God, you called your deacon Laurence to serve you with deeds of love, and gave him the crown of

  martyrdom: Grant that we, following his example, may fulfill your commandments by defending and supporting the

  poor, and by loving you with all our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and

  the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Troparion for the Feast of St.Lawrence

  Radiant with the Holy Spirit as a living coal,

  you burned the thorns of idolatry,

  O Lawrence, martyr and deacon of Christ.

  Like spiritual incense you were a burnt offering

  to Him who magnified you;

  you were perfected in the fire, O godly-minded one.

  Deliver all who acclaim you from the attacks of the enemy.

The text in this box was generated from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the CC-BY-SA.

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