Who was Saint Sebastian?
Saint Sebastian was a 3rd century Christian saint and a martyr. After completing his education in Milan, he had joined the Roman Army in order to help the suffering Christians. For his incredible service to the army, Sebastian was promoted to serve in the Praetorian Guard and to protect Emperor Diocletian. He also worked for the army of emperor Carinus and soon became a captain. However, when the authorities found out that Sebastian was a Christian and that he had been converting many soldiers, he was ordered to be killed by Mauritanian archers. Somehow, he managed to survive despite the arrows piercing through his body. He was nursed back to health by the widow of St. Castulus, who had earlier gone to recover his body. However, when Emperor Diocletian came to know that Sebastian had survived, he ordered his soldiers to capture him and beat him to death. Over the centuries, he came to be venerated in the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. He is considered the patron of archers, soldiers, and athletes, and is believed to save people against the plague. There is also a church dedicated to him in Italy that is visited by many pilgrims even today. There is a Christian catacomb below this church.
Childhood & Early Life
Some sources state that Saint Sebastian was born in circa AD 256 at Narbonne in Gaul, Italy. According to some other sources, he hailed from Gallia Narbonensis. He was educated at Milan. Nothing else is known about the circumstances surrounding his birth or early life.
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Later Life & Martyrdom
In AD 283, Sebastian went to Rome and served as a Praetorian Guard under Diocletian and Maximian. Considering his physical built and endurance, he was soon promoted to captain.
At that time, there were twin brothers Marcus and Marcellian who were put in jail for refusing to make public sacrifices to Roman gods. Both of them were deacons of the Christian church and their parents had asked them to renounce Christianity.
It was Sebastian who convinced their parents to convert to Christianity. His efforts helped the twin brothers stay true to their faith during their persecutions and gave them the moral strength to face their martyrdom with courage.
Between 283 AD and 285 AD, Sebastian convinced several people to convert while serving the army.
Some Christians who knew about Sebastian brought a woman named Zoe to him. She had been unable to speak for many years. Sebastian prayed with her and she recovered, getting back the power of speech. As a result of this miracle, many people who knew her also ended up following Christianity.
In 286 AD, Sebastian, whose Christian faith had been hidden until then, was finally detected by Emperor Diocletian. The emperor was enraged as he considered the concealment of Sebastian’s religion a form of betrayal. He ordered his archers to shoot Sebastian.
Sebastian miraculously survived the initial attack and was nursed back to health by the widow of Castulus, Irene of Rome. In AD 288, he went before Diocletian once again to tell him what he thought of his cruelty. Diocletian was surprised to see Sebastian alive. He ordered his guards to beat him to death.
The guards clubbed Sebastian to death and threw his body into a sewer. His body was later recovered a pious Christian woman who had previously dreamed about Sebastian asking her bury his lifeless body near the catacombs at the entrance of the cemetery of Calixtus.
Sebastian's remains are now housed in Rome in the Basilica Apostolorum. It was built by Pope Damasus I in 367. It was reconstructed in the 1610s under the patronage of Scipione Borghese. Today, the church is known as San Sebastiano Fuori le Mura.
In AD 934, Sebastian's cranium was taken to the town of Ebersberg, Germany. A Benedictine abbey was founded there and it is now considered one of the most prominent pilgrimage sites in southern Germany.
Saint Sebastian's martyrdom became well known after the 4th century bishop Ambrose of Milan (Saint Ambrose) mentioned him in his sermon on Psalm 118. He is now considered a popular saint, especially among athletes. He is also revered for his special ability to protect people from the plague.