Emperor Valerian had initially been peaceable toward the Christian Church. But in 257, after he had become paranoid that his friendliness had angered the gods, he instituted a violent persecution that lasted for three years and six months.
St. Sixtus II was elected to the papacy in secret on August 30, 257. He was known for being a “good and peaceful priest,” according to Pontius, his biographer.
On August 6, 258, imperial soldiers caught Pope Sixtus II celebrating an illegal Mass in a chapel in the catacombs. To prevent massacre of the faithful, Sixtus and his deacons surrendered. Sixtus was beheaded the same day.
Lawrence, one of his deacons, was martyred four days later, on August 10, 258. Legend has it that, while being grilled alive, he told his executioners, “Turn me over. I’m done on this side.”