IF EVER A SAINT was known for his death, it is Saint Lawrence, the most celebrated martyr of Roman times. Lawrence was one of the seven deacons under Pope Saint Sixtus II in the 3rd century when the Roman emperor Valerian was pursuing a periodic persecution of Christians. That is all that is known for sure about Lawrence. But Christian writers soon after began telling a more detailed account of Lawrence's death, and here is the story that was adopted by the Catholic Church.

Lawrence maintained a cool smile as he roasted. Sure. After Pope Sixtus was executed in 258, Lawrence believed he would soon follow. Lawrence, who was the keeper of the church's treasures, began giving away valuable items to the poor until he was arrested and told to turn in the rest of the riches over to the Roman court.

Lawrence told the judge he needed three days to gather the treasures, and then proceeded to round up a crowd of poor and handicapped people. "These are the treasures of the church," Lawrence told the angry prefect.

The judge, believing a simple beheading was not sufficient, ordered that Lawrence be burned to death, slowly. He was stripped and strapped facedown on a gridiron that was propped above a bed of slow-burning coals. It is said that Lawrence maintained a cool smile as he roasted and seemed unaware of the searing heat. [Right.] He even was quoted as telling the prefect, "Turn me. I am roasted on one side." [Yeah. Sure he did.]

According to Catholic doctrine, the horrible event so moved those who witnessed it that several Roman senators converted on the spot and carried away Lawrence's body for burial. His death, in fact, is credited with inspiring a wave of conversions in Rome that ultimately turned the pagan city into the foundation of Catholicism. A church was built over Lawrence's tomb that stands as one of the seven principal basilicas of Rome.

But not all of Lawrence is buried there. A dozen other churches claim to possess relics of the saint and his martyrdom, including the gridiron, Lawrence's shoulder blade, arm, jaw, backbone joint, finger, two ribs, and some melted fat.