August 10 – Lawrence of Rome

Lawrence of Rome (225–258) was born in Spain (in Huesca or otherwhere), where he met the then-future Pope Sixtus II, who was on a preaching tour. The two returned to Rome, where the then-future pope was made the then-present pope. Sixtus ordained Lawrence a deacon, and put him at the head of the Seven Deacons of Rome. As such he was in charge of the church’s treasury, and distributing alms to the poor.

About a year later the emperor (Valerian) issued an edict calling for the lives of all the clergy of the church. On their way to the gallows they were to give all their earthly treasure to the empire, for the upkeep of the army. As the prefect of Rome said, “Your god tells you to render unto Caesar. So start rendering.” He added a little more wordplay about Jesus having words but no money: “Give us your money. You can keep the words” (asinum dolor).

Sixtus, being pope and all, was arrested in the first sweep, and gently placed in jail to await trial. Lawrence parked his token (the gridiron, as you’ll see) on “Just Visiting” and said, “Don’t leave me, Father!” “It’s cool,” said Sixtus. “You’ll be with me in three days. Meanwhile go distribute the treasury to the poor.” Lawrence went to do so, but was nabbed by an official who hear the word “treasure” and had dolor signs flash in his eyes. Lawrence was lovingly escorted to jail, where he converted many inmates, including the jailor.

He was then brought before the emperor, who said, “How’s about you just give the treasure to me?” “Give me three days, give me three days, mister,” said Lawrence. “Meet you back here.” In those three days he gave all the money and treasure to the poor, saving the Holy Grail, which he EmpExed (get it?) to his parents in Spain. (Nowadays it resides at the Cathedral of Valencia, Malory notwithstanding.) After the three days were up, the prefect demanded, “Show me the money.” Lawrence brought forth the poor, crippled, blind, suffering, and so forth, and said, “Here’s the church’s treasure. Your emperor is a piker in the wealth department compared to us, sucka.” This did not go down well[1].

Lawrence was then given over to tortures[2]. After being stretched on the rack, he was whipped by the fourth-century equivalent of a cat o’ nine tails (which (truly) went by the endearing name “the scorpions”). One of the soldiers witnessing this all suddenly cried out, “I see a glowing guy tending your wounds,” and fetching a sprinkling can, bade Lawrence baptize him. The soldier was immediately beheaded, and Lawrence was affixed to a gridiron that was then suspended over a fire until it was red hot (or it was red hot when they put him on it). Through this all he didn’t so much as wince, filled as he was with the “fire of Divine love.”

After a time he told his executioners, “I think I’m done on that side. Better flip me.” (Cheeky saints are some of my favorites!) After he had suffered on both sides, he said, “All cooked now. You can eat.” Then, his face bathed in a beautiful light, he prayed for the salvation of Rome and gave up his spirit.

Lawrence has since been one of the most beloved martyrs of the church, with popes outdoing one another building and enlarging churches on the site of his execution and in other parts of Rome. Canada even built a river for him. His relics have been scattered throughout Europe, and a reliquary containing the ashes of his head is displayed at the Vatican for veneration. It goes without saying that he is the patron saint of cooks.

[1] Understatement.
[2] Some modern scholars think he was simply beheaded, and a scribal error between the Latin words for “suffered” (passus) and “roasted” (assus) led to the tale I present here. I’m not saying I agree or disagree with those wet blankets.