Laurentius was the leading deacon in Rome, serving Sixtus, Rome’s bishop faithfully during the reign of Emperor Valerian. In 258, Valerian began his persecution of the church, putting to death a number of church leaders, including Sixtus. Christians belonging to the nobility or the Roman Senate were deprived of their goods and exiled.
As Sixtus was being lead off to execution, Valerian is said to have followed him, asking how it was that his master was going off to serve his Lord without him, since he had never “mounted the altar of sacrifice”without his servant previously. Sixtus is said to have prophesized that Laurentius would follow him in three days.
As the leading deacon, Laurentius was responsible for the church’s material goods. The Roman authorities, thinking that the Christians had great hidden treasures, ordered him to hand them over to them. Laurentius agreed to do so, but asked for three days to gather them to together. Going out, he assembled the poor, aged and sick in Rome and brought them before the emperor, saying “These are the true treasures of the church.” Furious, Laurentius was ordered to suffer a slow and cruel death.
And so it was that on August 10, 258, Laurentius was scourged, beaten with irons, and had his joints dislocated. He was then placed on a large gridiron over a slow fire and slowly roasted to death. Having lain there for some time, he is reported to have called out to the emperor a Latin couplet, “Assum est, inquit, versa et manduca" (This side is done, turn me over and have a bite).
His executioner obliged and after he had been tormented for a considerable time, he finally lifted his eyes to heaven and with calmness yielded his spirit to God.
His sense of humour explains why Laurentius (also known as Saint Lawrence) is considered the patron saint of comedians. His courage and serenity in the face of such torture has a far more significant impact, however. Witnessing the reality and truth of the Christian faith in his martyrdom, many are said to have been followers of Jesus as a result.