Feast Day: January 20
Most accounts describe Sebastian as a native of Milan, born of Christian parents, and as a model Roman soldier. Although he was not interested in a military career, he was drafted into the army and eventually promoted captain in the Praetorian Guard, the imperial bodyguards.
During the persecutions of Christians under the emperor Diocletian, it was discovered that Sebastian had comforted some of the martyrs, was himself a Christian, and had actively converted others. Eventually the moment of truth arrived for this courageous Christian soldier. Diocletian condemned him to be shot to death by his fellow archers. Diocletian then turned Sebastian over to the archers and after they had pierced his body with numerous arrows, they left him for dead.
According to the legend, a Christian widow named Irene had him carried to her home, where she nursed him back to health. But the brave soldier of Christ confronted the emperor and denounced the cruelty of the persecutions of Christians. The enraged emperor had Sebastian beaten to death and had his body thrown into the common sewer. Shortly after his death, Sebastian appeared in a vision to a lady name Lucina, asking that his body be recovered and buried in the catacombs. He was later buried at a cemetery on the Appian Way. Nearby is where the basilica of St. Sebastian now stands.
The fact that many of the early saints made such a tremendous impression on the Church—awakening widespread devotion and great praise from the greatest writers of the Church – is proof of the heroism of their lives. As has been said, legends may not be literally true. Yet they may express the witness and very substance of the faith and courage evident in the lives of these heroes and heroines of Jesus Christ.
Foley, Leonard, O.F.M., and Pat McCloskey, O.F.M. “Saint of the Day-Updated and Expanded.” Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2013.
Heritage, Andrew, ed. “The Book of Saints: A Day-By-Day Illustrated Encyclopedia.” San Francisco: Weldonowen, 2012.
Lodi, Enzo. “Saints of the Roman Calendar-Updated and Revised Edition.” New York: Alba House, 2012.
Featured image: Wikimedia Commons