Little is known about the early life of St. Lawrence. He was a Christian during a very dangerous era, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Valerian, who ruled from 253 to 260.
Lawrence became a Roman archdeacon under Pope St. Sixtus II. His position of arch deacon held the responsibility as the “keeper of the treasures of the church.”
During Valerian’s persecution against the Christians, Pope Sixtus was arrested and beheaded. At this time, the Christians who were arrested had no trial and were sentenced to death and then thrown into pits without proper burials. At the time of the arrest of Pope Sixtus, Lawrence was questioned by the prefect of Rome. The prefect had learned that Lawrence was the “keeper of the treasures of the church” and demanded that the riches of the church should be surrendered to Rome.
Lawrence agreed to surrender the treasure and requested a short delay so that he could gather all the goods. During the delay Lawrence distributed the wealth of the church to the poor. The Prefect of Rome was furious and sentenced Lawrence to a slow and lingering death.
St. Lawrence was imprisoned in 258 and placed under his jurisdiction of Hippolytus, the Roman jailer. While the saint was in prison, Hippolytus witnessed Lawrence healing the sick. St. Lawrence was martyred by being roasted alive on a gridiron. After Lawrence was martyred Hippolytus ensured that he was given a Christian burial.
St. Lawrence is the patron of fire and bankers because of his death by fire and his position as “keeper of the treasures of the church.” Lawrence is represented in Christian art with a gridiron hanging from his girdle or lying by his side. He also is represented at times in a deacon’s dress, with tongues of fire embroidered upon it, in allusion to his martyrdom. Where the gridiron is omitted, he has a plate of gold or silver, or it may be a money bag in his hand, because the treasures of the Church were in his keeping.
Adapted by A.J. Valentini