1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Sebastian, St

SEBASTIAN, ST, a Christian martyr whose festival is celebrated on the 20th of January. According to St Ambrose (in Psalm 118, oct. 20) Sebastian was a native of Milan, went to Rome at the height of Diocletian's persecution, and there suffered martyrdom. The Acta of St Sebastian, falsely attributed to the same St Ambrose, are far less sparing of details. They make him a citizen of Narbonne and captain of the first cohort under the emperors Diocletian and Maximian. Having secretly become a Christian, Sebastian was wont to encourage those of his brethren who in the hour of trial seemed wavering in their profession. This was conspicuously the case with the brothers Marcus and Marcellinus. He made many converts, several of whom suffered martyrdom. Diocletian, having been informed of this conduct, sent for him and earnestly remonstrated with him, but, finding him inflexible, ordered him to be bound to a stake and shot to death. After the archers had left him for dead, a devout woman, Irene, came by night to take his body away for burial, but, finding him still alive, carried him to her house, where his wounds were dressed. No sooner had he wholly recovered than he hastened to confront the emperor, reproaching him with his impiety; Diocletian ordered him to be instantly carried off and beaten to death with rods. The sentence was forthwith executed, his body being thrown into the cloaca, where, however, it was found by another pious matron, Lucina, whom Sebastian visited in a dream, directing her to bury him ad Catacombas juxta vestigia apostolorum. It was on this spot, on the Appian way, that was built the basilica of St Sebastian, which was a popular place of pilgrimage in the middle ages. The translation of his relics to Soissons in 826 made that town a new centre of his cult. St Sebastian is specially invoked against the plague. As a young and beautiful soldier, he is a favourite subject of sacred art, being most generally represented undraped, and severely though not mortally wounded with arrows.

See Acta Sanctorum, January, ii. 257-296; Bibliotheca hagiographica Latina (Brussels, 1899), n. 7543-7549; A. Bell, Lives and Legends of the Evangelists, Apostles and other early Saints (London, 1901), pp. 238-240.

(H. De.)