Saint Sebastian was an early Christian martyr who suffered during the persecution of Christians under the Roman emperor Diocletian. In many known images of him, he is depicted tied to a tree with multiple arrows in his body, facing a brutal execution for being a Christian. According to legend, the arrows did not kill him, and he appeared before the emperor Diocletian to warn him about his sins and call him to repentance. The emperor did not listen and had him clubbed to death.
Originating from Milan, he became an illustrious officer of the Roman army. Already a Christian, he took great care to conceal his faith. His courage and prowess won him the trust and respect of Emperor Diocletian, who promoted him to the captain of the Praetorian guards. Despite being a secret Christian, he reassured many in their faith and effected multiple conversions. To this end, he used his position as a courtier. He visited his fellow Christians in prison to lift their spirits, and brought to the faith multiple Roman officials, including the Prefect of Rome, with duties to oversee the persecution of Christians.
The bishop of Rome Caius told Sebastian and several other Christians about their upcoming martyrdom, advising them to engage in fasting and prayer in preparation while instructing the other Christians to leave the city. On the day of their martyrdom, each member of the 'company of martyrs' was meted out a sentence to a torturous death. Before he went to trial and received his sentence, Sebastian was made to witness the death of all his fellow Christians.
Then, standing before Diocletian, he declared his faith and was led to meet his death tied under a tree. His executioners fired at him so many arrows that his body was bristling with them. They left him for dead, but he survived and came to Emperor Diocletian, who had him clubbed to death and thrown into a sewer.
4th-century bishop Saint Ambrose of Milan recounted the details of Saint Sebastian's martyrdom in a sermon. He is now considered a patron saint of soldiers and athletes. His veneration was particularly strong in medieval Europe during the epidemic of bubonic plague. To us, he remains the epitome of strength, perseverance, courage and justice in dangerous and difficult situations.
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