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St. Lawrence (or Laurence) of Rome d. 258

Saint Lawrence (or Laurence) of Rome (c. 225-258) is one of the most honored of the Christian martyrs. Not much is known of him. He may have been born in Huesca, Spain. A deacon of the Roman Catholic Church during a time of Christian persecution, Lawrence was entrusted with safeguarding the Church’s holy relics, among them the Holy Chalice. In Christian history, the Holy Chalice is believed to be the cup Jesus and his Apostles drank wine from at the Last Supper. At this first Eucharistic feast, Jesus consecrated the wine for the Apostles to drink, thus changing it into the blood of Christ.

Detail from “The Last Supper,” by Juan de Juanes, oil, 1560s, showing Jesus with the elements of the Christian Eucharist: bread and wine. The cup pictured is The Holy Chalice of Valencia, believed to be the cup Jesus and the Apostles drank wine from at the Last Supper. This Holy Chalice is one of four believed to be the actual cup used in the Last Supper. The Holy Chalice of Valencia (Spain) is believed to be the chalice St. Lawrence rescued from Rome in 258 A.D.

From 257-261  A.D., the Roman Emperor Valerian was aggressively persecuting Christians and stripping the Church of power and property. In 258 A.D., he ordered the beheading of Pope Sixtus II. Alarmed, Lawrence immediately began selling  church possessions and giving away the money to the poor. For safekeeping, he gave the Holy Chalice to a soldier to spirit it away to Lawrence’s homeland in Spain, in present-day Aragon.  

The Holy Chalice of Valencia

Then came the order from the Roman prefect (commander) for Lawrence to turn over all the treasures of the Church.  Lawrence rushed out into the city. He gathered together lepers, the blind, the sick, widows, orphans, the elderly, the poor, the crippled, and the homeless and took the crowd to be presented to the Roman prefect. 

Here,” Lawrence announced to the commander, gesturing at all the people assembled, “here is the church’s treasure.” 

The commander was incensed. He ordered that Lawrence be stripped of his clothing and bound with ropes. He had Lawrence laid on his back upon a gridiron and roasted over a slow fire.   

"The Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence," oil on wood, by Masters of the Acts of Mercy (Austrian, Salzburg, c. 1465)

After prolonged and indescribable suffering, Lawrence is said to have quipped to his torturers: 

“One side is done now; you can turn me over now.” (which they did, turning him face down above the flames) 

After saying a prayer for the Christian conversion of Rome, he died. 

St. Lawrence is the patron saint of cooks and comedians alike. In art, he is often portrayed carrying a long cross on his shoulder and a gospel book in his hand. His emblems are the gridiron and a bag of money for the poor. (1) 

(1) White, Kristin E. White (compiled by).  A Guide to the Saints. New York: Ivy Books, 1991.

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