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Lawrence the Deacon

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St Lawrence (Italian: San Lorenzo; Latin: S Laurentius was a deacon in Rome who was martyred in 258. He was one of the seven deacons of Rome, was martyred four days after Pope Sixtus II, and buried in Campus Veranus (now Campo Verano) by the road to Tivoli. He is considered as one of the greatest saints of the Catholic Church, and is mentioned in the Roman Canon.

The information we have about him is uncertain, and much of it might be legendary. It is said that he was originally from Toledo, Spain, and was appointed Archdeacon under Pope Sixtus II. On 6 August, 258, the Pope was taken by soldiers and martyred; the legend says that St Lawrence cried because he was left alive while his friend was allowed to die for the Faith. The Pope told him to relax, because he would follow him to Paradise in three days. In the meantime, St Lawrence was to distribute the treasure of the Church to the poor. At that time, one of the tasks that befell the deacons was to distribute alms and food for the poor. The Emperor demanded that all the treasure be handed over to him, and Lawrence asked for three days to collect them. He used those three days to distribute everything to the poor. He then gathered thousands of lepers, blind, old and infirm and presented them to the Emperor, saying that they were the treasure of the Church. The Emperor could of course not tolerate such insolence, and sentenced Lawrence to death. He was arrested, and roasted slowly on a gridiron. The legend claims that while he was suffering in this way, he told the Emperor that he was done on one side, so they should turn him over. He then thanked God, prayed for the conversion of Rome and died.

The legends connect him to several churches. He is said to have been sentenced at the site of San Lorenzo in Miranda, imprisoned at the site of San Lorenzo in Fonte and martyred at the site of San Lorenzo in Panisperna.

This story was first told some time after his death, and it is more likely that he was decapitated like Pope Sixtus II. But it has been taken at face value for many centuries, and one of the common attributes of St Lawrence is the gridiron. He is always depicted dressed as a deacon. Other attributes are a money purse and a palm leaf symbolizing martyrdom.

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