St. Laurence, one of the deacons of the Roman Catholic Church, was one of the victims of the persecution of Valerian in 258, like Pope Sixtus II and many other members of the Roman clergy. At the beginning of the month of August, 258, the emperor issued an edict, commanding that all Bishops, Priests, and Deacons should immediately be put to death. This imperial command was immediately carried out in Rome. On August 6, Pope Sixtus II was apprehended in one of the catacombs, and executed forthwith. Two other deacons, Felicissimus and Agapitus, were put to death the same day. In the Roman Calender of Feasts of the fourth century, their feast day is on the same date. Four days later, on August 10 of that same year, Laurence, the last of the seven deacons, also suffered a martyr’s death. The anniversary of this holy martyr falls on that day. The Almanac of Philocalus for the year 354 mentions the street where his grave is to be found, the Via Tiburtina.
Since the fourth century St. Laurence has been one of the most honored martyrs of the Roman Catholic Church. Constantine the Great was the first to erect a little oratory over his burial-place, which was enlarged and beautified by Pope Pelagius II (570-90). Pope Sixtus III (432-40) built a large basilica with three naves, the apse leaning against the older church, on the summit of the hill where he was buried. In the thirteenth century Honorius III made the two buildings into one, and so the basilica of San Lorenzo remains to this day. Two contemporaries of the last named pope, St. Ambrose of Milan and the poet Prudentius, give particular details about St. Laurence’s death. Ambrose relates that when St. Laurence was asked for the treasures, in place of alms; also that when Pope Sixtus II was led away to his death, he comforted Laurence, who wished to share his martyrdom, by saying that he would follow him in three days. The saintly Bishop of Milan also states that St. Laurence was burned to death on a gridiron.
The narrations of Ambrose and Prudentius are founded rather on oral tradition than on written accounts. It is quite possible that between the year 258 and the end of the fourth century popular legends may have grown up about this highly venerated Roman deacon, and some of these legends have been preserved. However, there can be no question that St. Laurence was a real historical personage, nor any doubt as to the martyrdom of that venerated Roman deacon, the place of it’s occurrence, and the state of his burial.
Pope Damasus built a basilica in Rome which he dedicated to St. Laurence; this is the church now known as that of San Lorenzo in Damaso. The church of San Lorenzo in Lucia, also dedicated to this saint, still exists. The feast day of St. Laurence is kept on August 10. He is pictured in art with the gridiron.