St Lawrence is thought to have been born in Huesca, a town in the region of Aragon in Spain. He encountered the future Pope Sixtus II, who was of Greek origin, and eventually, both left Spain for Rome. When Sixtus became the Pope in 257, he ordained St Lawrence as a deacon, and though Lawrence was still young appointed him first among the seven deacons who served in the patriarchal church. He is therefore called "archdeacon of Rome", a position of great trust that included the care of the treasury and riches of the church and the distribution of alms among the poor.
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 August 258, the Emperor Valerian issued an edict 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.
After the death of Sixtus, the prefect of Rome demanded that St Lawrence turn over the riches of the Church. Lawrence asked for three days to gather together the wealth. He 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 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." 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, "I'm well done. Turn me over!" From this derives his patronage of cooks and chefs. He was martyred on August 10, 258.
St Lawrence is one of the most widely venerated saints of the Roman Catholic Church. Legendary details of his death were known to Saints Ambrose and Augustine. The church built over his tomb, San Lorenzo fuori le Mure, 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 his feast day, some refer to the shower as the "Tears of St Lawrence."
The image above is a detail from Fra Angelico's "Lawrence before Valerianus."
Thanks, as always to St Matthias' Church, Somerset NJ.