Little is known about St Lawrence but his martyrdom made a deep and lasting impression on the early church that the celebration of his feast spread quickly. He was the deacon of St Pope Sixtus II who was martyred a few days before St Lawrence in the year 258 during the persecution of the Emperor Valerian. As a deacon he also attended to the care of the poor, the orphans and widows and before his martyrdom sold all of his possessions and some church valuables to give to those in need.
From legend, which may be true or untrue or have elements of truth, the Prefect of Rome when he heard of St Lawrence giving away possessions then imagined that the church had treasures and asked St Lawrence to give them to the Emperor. St Lawrence then is reputed to have said that he would need three days to set everything up as indeed he wished to show the Prefect the church’s most valuable assets.
St Lawrence then gathered up a great number of blind, lepers, sick and the aged and presented them as the true treasures of the Church. The prefect was furious and ordered that St Lawrence have a painful death by being roasted slowly over a gridiron.
St Lawrence was buried on the Via Tiburtina at the Campo Verano near to where Constantine the Great built a Basilica.