|Saint Lawrence, Deacon and
Martyr - Died 258
St. Lawrence was one of the seven deacons of Pope St. Sixtus. According to a story going back to St. Ambrose, Sixtus entrusted him with the papal treasury (image), anticipating his own imminent arrest. St. Lawrence distributed the money to the poor (image). When the Romans demanded that he produce the Pope's "treasure" he showed them the poor people. He was then condemned (image) and martyred (image) three days after Sixtus. Later versions of the story have St. Lawrence tortured on a hot gridiron, but scholars believe that this detail was borrowed from the passion of St. Vincent of Saragossa, another Spanish-born deacon. The Golden Legend cemented this association with the gridiron as well as the witticism about it that is imputed to him.
St. Lawrence is usually portrayed as a young man in a dalmatic. Often his tonsure is showing. His attributes are a Gospel book (usually closed), a gridiron, sometimes a processional cross (example), and often the palm that signifies martyrdom. An early fresco in Rome has him tonsured and in his dalmatic but without the gridiron or palm. In portraits the gridiron is usually reduced to a diminutive size, as at left. In Lippi's portrait it is further reduced to a mere grid pattern in the dais beneath St. Lawrence's throne.
Some sources consulted for this page refer to a chalice as an attribute in images of St. Lawrence. I have not seen any image using a chalice in this way, but one does appear in Fra Angelico's fresco of St. Lawrence's ordination as deacon. In Catholic liturgy the deacon is traditionally "the minister of the cup." There is a metaphorical reference to a chalice in St. Augustine's homily on St. Lawrence's day, and the Golden Legend's account of his miracles includes one story involving a shattered crystal chalice that was repaired by the intercession of the saint.
Feast day: August 10
At left, detail from Vivarini, Saints Dominic, Augustine, Lawrence
Fra Angelico's cycle of St. Lawrence frescoes: 1 2 3 4 5
Relief of St. Lawrence with St. Stephen, by Donatello
Twelfth-century English Window
Sculpture by Tilman Riemenschneider
Relief in the Lateran Basilica, Rome
Fresco in the Gesù, Rome
Golden Legend #117: html or pdf
St. Ambrose on St. Lawrence, from De Officiis II:28 (cached)
St. Augustine on St. Lawrence, from a religious web site (cached)