Despite his fame as the saint shot through with
arrows in many Renaissance paintings, we know little of this 3rd century Roman martyr,
buried in the church catacomb bearing his name on the Appian Way.
Sebastian was born at Narbonne, Gaul. He
is patron saint of athletes because of his physical endurance and his energetic way of
spreading and defending the Faith. Sebastian is also patron to all soldiers.
He entered the Roman army under Emperor
Carinus in 283 in order to defend the confessors and martyrs of his day without drawing
attention to himself. He attained position of an officer in the imperial bodyguard and
secretly performed many acts of love and charity for his brethren in the Faith. His
efforts kept the Faith of Marcus and Marcellian firm during their persecutions, right up
to the time of their martyrdom.
When he was finally discovered to be a
Christian, in 286, he was handed over to the Mauretanian archers, who tied him to a tree,
and shot him with arrows. He was healed, however, by the widowed St. Irene. He
was finally killed by the blows of a club.
During the 14th Century, the random nature of
infection with the Black Death caused people to liken the plague to their villages with
being shot by an army of nature's archers. In desparation they prayed for the intercession
of a saint associated with archers, which was Saint Sebastian. He was declared
patron of plague sufferers of his reported cures of those afflicted with many diseases.