He was a Roman deacon under Pope St. Sixtus II. Four days after this pope was put to death, Lawrence and four clerics suffered martyrdom, probably during the persecution of the Emperor Valerian.
A well-known legend has persisted from earliest times. As deacon in Rome, Lawrence was charged with the responsibility for the material goods of the Church, and the distribution of alms to the poor. When Lawrence knew he would be arrested like the pope, he sought out the poor, widows and orphans of Rome and gave them all the money he had on hand, selling even the sacred vessels to increase the sum. When the prefect of Rome heard of this, he imagined that the Christians must have considerable treasure. He sent for Lawrence and said, You Christians say we are cruel to you, but that is not what I have in mind. I am told that your priests offer in gold, that the sacred blood is received in silver cups, that you have golden candlesticks at your evening services. Now, your doctrine says you must render to Caesar what is his. Bring these treasuresthe emperor needs them to maintain his forces. God does not cause money to be counted: He brought none of it into the world with himonly words. Give me the money, therefore, and be rich in words.
Lawrence replied that the Church was indeed rich. I will show you a valuable part. But give me time to set everything in order and make an inventory. After three days he gathered a great number of blind, lame, maimed, leprous, orphaned and widowed persons and put them in rows. When the prefect arrived, Lawrence simply said, These are the treasure of the Church.
The prefect was so angry he told Lawrence that he would indeed have his wish to diebut it would be by inches. He had a great gridiron prepared, with coals beneath it, and had Lawrences body placed on it. After the martyr had suffered the pain for a long time, the legend concludes, he made his famous cheerful remark, It is well done. Turn it over and eat it!
The church built over Lawrences tomb became one of the seven principal churches in Rome and a favorite place for Roman pilgrimages.