The popular legend that portrays Saint Lawrence lying on a gridiron and giving instructions for his own roasting may be no more than a myth; Lawrence himself, however, is a reality, and legends only point to the widespread devotion to him among early Christians.
He was one of seven deacons in Rome during the pontificate of Sixtus II, and was martyred on August 10, 258, four days after Sixtus himself had been put to death by the emperor Valerian. As a deacon, Lawrence had charge of caring for the property of the Church and distributing alms to the poor. According to the legend, when he was ordered by the Roman prefect to hand over the treasures of the Church, he asked for time to gather together this wealth, and then went about the city distributing the Church’s money to the poor and the sick and selling its property for the same purpose. When he came before the prefect again and was told to produce his riches, he pointed to the crowd of beggars, cripples, and other unfortunates who had followed him there and who had received the benefit of the Church’s material goods. It was this piece of audacity, the legend says, that enraged the prefect and led him to order Lawrence’s unique execution. Stretched out on a gridiron over a bed of fiery coals, the saint calmly told his torturers, “Turn me over now, I’m done enough on this side.”