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St. Sebastian

III Century
A martyr whose story inspired many Renaissance painters, St. Sebastian is said to have been a Roman soldier, possibly born in Milan or of Milanese parentage, who secretly aided accused Christians and converted many of his fellow soldiers. Diocletian and Maximian, unaware of his religious convictions and activities, made him a captain of the Prætorian Guard. When the former learned that Sebastian was a Christian, the emperor ordered that the soldier be shot full of arrows. Sebastian was left as dead and was rescued. Irene, the widow of St. Castulus, tended his wounds. When Sebastian was fully recovered, he confronted Diocletian, who ordered him cudgelled to death. Sebastian died c. 297/305 and was buried on the Appian Way.

The cult of Sebastian dates to the V Century. Ambrose mentions him, and the Passio was composed c. 450, presumably by a monk in a monastery established by Sixtus III in the catacombs. The earliest pictures of Sebastian are mosaics in Ravenna and St. Peter-in-Chains; these depict him as an old man. Renaissance artists portray Sebastian as a young man whose neck is ringed with arrows.

Karen Rae Keck

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