Feastday: January 20 (Catholic),
December 18 (Eastern Orthodox)
Sebastian (died c. 288 AD) was an early Christian saint and martyr. According to
Christian belief, he was killed during the Roman emperor Diocletian's
persecution of Christians. He is commonly depicted in art and literature tied to
a post or tree and shot with arrows. Despite this being the most common artistic
depiction of Sebastian, he was, according to legend, rescued and healed by Irene
of Rome. Shortly afterwards he went to Diocletian to warn him about his sins,
and as a result was clubbed to death. He is venerated in the Catholic and
The details of Saint Sebastian's martyrdom
were first spoken of by 4th-century bishop Ambrose of Milan (Saint Ambrose), in
his sermon (number 22) on Psalm 118. Ambrose stated that Sebastian came from
Milan and that he was already venerated there at that time. Saint Sebastian is a
popular male saint, especially among athletes.
According to Sebastian's 18th-century
entry in Acta Sanctorum, still attributed to Ambrose by the 17th-century
hagiographer Jean Bolland, and the briefer account in the 14th-century Legenda
Aurea, he was a man of Gallia Narbonensis who was taught in Milan. In 283,
Sebastian entered the army in Rome under Emperor Carinus to assist the martyrs.
Because of his courage he became one of the captains of the Praetorian Guards
under Diocletian and Maximian, who were unaware that he was a Christian.
According to tradition, Marcus and
Marcellian were twin brothers from a distinguished family and were deacons. Both
brothers married, and they resided in Rome with their wives and children. The
brothers refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods and were arrested. They were
visited by their parents Tranquillinus and Martia in prison, who attempted to
persuade them to renounce Christianity. Sebastian succeeded in converting
Tranquillinus and Martia, as well as Saint Tiburtius, the son of Chromatius, the
local prefect. Another official, Nicostratus, and his wife Zoe were also
converted. It has been said that Zoe had been a mute for six years; however, she
made known to Sebastian her desire to be converted to Christianity. As soon as
she had, her speech returned to her. Nicostratus then brought the rest of the
prisoners; these 16 persons were converted by Sebastian.
Chromatius and Tiburtius converted;
Chromatius set all of his prisoners free from jail, resigned his position, and
retired to the country in Campania. Marcus and Marcellian, after being concealed
by a Christian named Castulus, were later martyred, as were Nicostratus, Zoe,
Sebastian had prudently concealed his
faith, but in 286 was detected. Diocletian reproached him for his supposed
betrayal, and he commanded him to be led to a field and there to be bound to a
stake so that certain archers from Mauritania would shoot arrows at him. "And
the archers shot at him till he was as full of arrows as an urchin is full of
pricks, and thus left him there for dead." Miraculously, the arrows did not kill
him. The widow of Castulus, Irene of Rome, went to retrieve his body to bury it,
and she discovered he was still alive. She brought him back to her house and
nursed him back to health.
Sebastian later stood by a staircase where
the emperor was to pass and harangued Diocletian for his cruelties against
Christians. This freedom of speech, and from a person whom he supposed to have
been dead, greatly astonished the emperor; but, recovering from his surprise, he
gave orders for his being seized and beat to death with cudgels, and his body
thrown into the common sewer. A pious lady, called Lucina, admonished by the
martyr in a vision, got it privately removed, and buried it in the catacombs at
the entrance of the cemetery of Calixtus, where now stands the Basilica of St.
Sebastian was said to be a defense against
the plague. The Golden Legend transmits the episode of a great plague that
afflicted the Lombards in the time of King Gumburt, which was stopped by the
erection of an altar in honor of Sebastian in the Church of Saint Peter in the
Province of Pavia.
Remains reputed to be those of Sebastian are housed in Rome in the Basilica
Apostolorum, built by Pope Damasus I in 367 on the site of the provisional tomb
of Saints Peter and Paul. The church, today called San Sebastiano fuori le mura,
was rebuilt in the 1610s under the patronage of Scipione Borghese.
Saint Ado, Eginard, Sigebert, and other
contemporary authors relate that, in the reign of Louis Debonnair, Pope Eugenius
II gave the body of St. Sebastian to Hilduin, Abbot of St. Denys, who brought it
into France, and it was deposited at Saint Medard Abbey, at Soissons, on the 8th
of December, in 826.
Sebastian's cranium was brought to the
town of Ebersberg (Germany) in 934. A Benedictine abbey was founded there and
became one of the most important pilgrimage sites in southern Germany. It is
said the silver-encased cranium was used as a cup in which to present wine to
the faithful during the feast of Saint Sebastian.
In art and
The earliest representation of Sebastian is a mosaic in the Basilica of
Sant'Apollinare Nuovo (Ravenna, Italy) dated between 527 and 565. The right
lateral wall of the basilica contains large mosaics representing a procession of
26 martyrs, led by Saint Martin and including Sebastian. The martyrs are
represented in Byzantine style, lacking any individuality, and all have
Another early representation is in a mosaic in the Church of San Pietro in
Vincoli (Rome, Italy), probably made in the year 682. It shows a grown, bearded
man in court dress but contains no trace of an arrow. The archers and arrows
begin to appear by 1000, and ever since have been far more commonly shown than
the actual moment of his death by clubbing, so that there is a popular
misperception that this is how he died.
As protector of potential plague victims (a connection popularized by the Golden
Legend and soldiers, Sebastian occupied an important place in the popular
medieval mind. He was among the most frequently depicted of all saints by Late
Gothic and Renaissance artists, in the period after the Black Death. The
opportunity to show a semi-nude male, often in a contorted pose, also made
Sebastian a favourite subject. His shooting with arrows was the subject of the
largest engraving by the Master of the Playing Cards in the 1430s, when there
were few other current subjects with male nudes other than Christ. Sebastian
appears in many other prints and paintings, although this was due to his
popularity with the faithful. Among many others, Botticelli, Perugino, Titian,
Pollaiuolo, Giovanni Bellini, Guido Reni (who painted the subject seven times),
Mantegna (three times), Hans Memling, Gerrit van Honthorst, Luca Signorelli, El
Greco, Honoré Daumier, John Singer Sargent and Louise Bourgeois all painted
Saint Sebastians. An early work by the sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini is of Saint
The saint is ordinarily depicted as a handsome youth pierced by arrows. Predella
scenes when required, often depicted his arrest, confrontation with the Emperor,
and final beheading. The illustration in the infobox is the Saint Sebastian of
Il Sodoma, at the Pitti Palace, Florence.
A mainly 17th-century subject, though found in predella scenes as early as the
15th century, was St Sebastian tended by St Irene, painted by Georges de La
Tour, Trophime Bigot (four times), Jusepe de Ribera, Hendrick ter Brugghen (in
perhaps his masterpiece) and others. This may have been a deliberate attempt by
the Church to get away from the single nude subject, which is already recorded
in Vasari as sometimes arousing inappropriate thoughts among female churchgoers.
The Baroque artists usually treated it as a nocturnal chiaroscuro scene,
illuminated by a single candle, torch or lantern, in the style fashionable in
the first half of the 17th century. There exist several cycles depicting the
life of Saint Sebastian. Among them are the frescos in the "Basilica di San
Sebastiano" of Acireale (Italy) with paintings by Pietro Paolo Vasta.
Egon Schiele, an Austrian Expressionist artist, painted a self-portrait as Saint
Sebastian in 1915. During Salvador Dalí's "Lorca (Federico García Lorca) Period",
he painted Sebastian several times, most notably in his "Neo-Cubist Academy".
In 1911, the Italian playwright Gabriele d'Annunzio in conjunction with Claude
Debussy produced a mystery play on the subject. The American composer Gian Carlo
Menotti composed a ballet score for a Ballets Russes production which was first
given in 1944. In his novella Death in Venice, Thomas Mann hails the "Sebastian-Figure"
as the supreme emblem of Apollonian beauty, that is, the artistry of
differentiated forms; beauty as measured by discipline, proportion, and luminous
distinctions. This allusion to Saint Sebastian's suffering, associated with the
writerly professionalism of the novella's protagonist, Gustav Aschenbach,
provides a model for the "heroism born of weakness", which characterizes poise
amidst agonizing torment and plain acceptance of one's fate as, beyond mere
patience and passivity, a stylized achievement and artistic triumph.
In George Orwell's futuristic novel 1984, the protagonist Winston Smith, at the
time he is not aware she actually loves him and hates the Party, is said to have
dreams of ravishing the girl Julia, and having her pierced through with arrows
like Saint Sebastian.
Sebastian's death was depicted in the 1949
film Fabiola, in which he was played by Massimo Girotti. In 1976, the British
director Derek Jarman made a film, Sebastiane, which caused controversy in its
treatment of the martyr as a homosexual icon. However, as several critics have
noted, this has been a subtext of the imagery since the Renaissance. Also in
1976, in the American horror film Carrie, a figure of Saint Sebastian (commonly
misconstrued as a figure of the crucified Christ) appears in Carrie's prayer
In 1990's The Godfather Part III, Michael Corleone is awarded the Order of Saint
Sebastian, said by some sources to be fictitious.
Pietro Vannucci Perugino’s painting (c. 1495) of Saint Sebastian is featured in
the 2001 movie Wit starring Emma Thompson. Thompson’s character, as a college
student, visits her professor's office, where an almost life-size painting of
Saint Sebastian hangs on the wall. Later, when the main character is a professor
herself, diagnosed with cancer, she keeps a small print of this same painting of
Saint Sebastian next to her hospital bed. The allusion appears to be to
Sebastian's stoic martyrdom - a role the Thompson character has willingly
accepted for the betterment of all mankind. There may be a touch of authorial (or
directorial) cynicism in making this "saintly" connection.
In 2007, artist Damien Hirst presented Saint Sebastian, Exquisite Pain from his
Natural History series. The piece depicts a cow in formaldehyde, bound in metal
cable and shot with arrows.
British pop band Alt-J's video for Hunger of the Pine contains references to the
story of Saint Sebastian's death, adapted to fit the lyrics of the song. Tarsem
Singh's video for the R.E.M. song "Losing My Religion" makes use of imagery of
St. Sebastian, drawing particular inspiration from paintings by Guido Reni and
Lodovico Carracci's rare treatment of the subject of St. Sebastian Thrown into
the Cloaca Maxima (1612)
In the Roman Catholic Church, Sebastian is commemorated by an optional memorial
on 20 January. In the Church of Greece, Sebastian's feast day is on 18 December.
As a protector from the bubonic plague, Sebastian was formerly one of the
Fourteen Holy Helpers. The connection of the martyr shot with arrows with the
plague is not an intuitive one, however. In Greco-Roman myth, Apollo, the archer
god, is the deliverer of pestilence; the figure of Sebastian Christianizes this
folkloric association. The chronicler Paul the Deacon relates that, in 680, Rome
was freed from a raging pestilence by him.
Sebastian, like Saint George, was one of a
class of military martyrs and soldier saints of the Early Christian Church whose
cults originated in the 4th century and culminated at the end of the Middle Ages,
in the 14th and 15th centuries both in the East and the West. Details of their
martyrologies may provoke some skepticism among modern readers, but certain
consistent patterns emerge that are revealing of Christian attitudes. In
Catholicism, Sebastian is the patron saint of archers, athletes, and of a holy
Sebastian is one of the patron saints of
the city of Qormi in Malta along with Saint George. Sebastian is the patron
saint of Acireale, Caserta and Petilia Policastro in Italy, Melilli in Sicily,
and San Sebastián as well as Palma de Mallorca and Huelva in Spain. He is the
patron saint of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Informally, in the tradition of the
Afro-Brazilian syncretic religion Umbanda, Sebastian is often associated with
Oxossi, especially in the state of Rio de Janeiro itself.
He is the patron of a college named for him in Manila, Philippines which is
adjacent to the Parish of San Sebastian.
Sebastian is the patron saint of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bacolod, in
Negros Occidental, Philippines.
Saint Sebastian is the patron of Knights of Columbus Council #4926 in the Roman
Catholic Diocese of San Jose in California, serving the cities of Mountain View
and Los Altos.
In his 1906 Reminiscences, Carl Schurz recalls the annual "bird shoot" pageant
of the Rhenish town of Liblar which was sponsored by the Saint Sebastian
Society, a club of sharpshooters and their sponsors to which nearly every adult
member of town belonged.
The St. Sebastian River is named for him. It is a tributary of the Indian River
Lagoon and comprises part of the boundary between Indian River County and
Brevard County in Florida. The adjacent city of Sebastian, Florida and St.
Sebastian River Preserve State Park are also named for Saint Sebastian.
Prayer to Saint
Dear Commander at
the Roman Emperor's court, you chose to be also a soldier of Christ and
dared to spread faith in the King of Kings, for which you were condemned
to die. Your body, however, proved athletically strong and the executing
arrows extremely weak. So another means to kill you was chosen and you
gave your life to the Lord. May athletes be always as strong in their
faith as their Patron Saint so clearly has been.
- Foundation Marypages -
Our foundation has the
objective to develop, expand and maintain the Marypages website to
promote the Roman Catholic belief and especially the Devotion of Our
Blessed Mother, Mary.
With your financial support you will make this possible.
Marypages can only survive with your help!
can become a donator of our foundation by donating at least 20 Euro per
year. We will then offer you:
If your donation is 50 Euro or
higher, then you will also receive a beautiful rosary from Lourdes. In the rosary is a little holy water
from the source in Lourdes.
Any extra income generated will be donated to
compassionate projects with a Catholic basis. We are registered at the
Chamber of Commerce Flevoland under number 39100629.
To make a donation, please click
the button below.
God bless you.