Saint Sebastian

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Saint Sebastian of Avla
Sodoma 003.jpg
Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, by Il Sodoma, c. 1525
Captain of the Praetorian Guard
Roman Soldier, Healer and Martyr
Born c. 256
Died c. 288
Honored in Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodoxy
Oriental Orthodoxy
Anglicanism
Aglipayan Church
Feast January 20 (Catholic),
December 18 (Eastern Orthodox)
Attributes Tied to a post, pillar or a tree, shot by arrows, clubbed to death
Patronage Soldiers, plague-stricken, archers, holy Christian death, athletes

Saint Sebastian (died c. 288) was an early Christian saint and martyr. It is said that he was killed during the Roman emperor Diocletian's persecution of Christians. He is commonly depicted in art and literature tied to a post or tree and shot with arrows. This is the most common artistic depiction of Sebastian; however, according to legend, he was rescued and healed by Irene of Rome. Shortly afterwards he criticized Diocletian in person and as a result was clubbed to death.[1] He is venerated in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

The details of Saint Sebastian's martyrdom were first spoken of by 4th-century bishop Ambrose of Milan (Saint Ambrose), in his sermon (number 22) on Psalm 118. Ambrose stated that Sebastian came from Milan and that he was already venerated there at that time. Saint Sebastian is a popular male saint, especially among soldiers.[2][3]

Life[edit]

Saint Sebastian Interceding for the Plague Stricken,[4] Josse Lieferinxe, 1497–1499, The Walters Art Museum

According to Sebastian's 18th-century entry in Acta Sanctorum,[5] still attributed to Ambrose by the 17th-century hagiographer Jean Bolland, and the briefer account in the 14th-century Legenda Aurea, he was a man of Gallia Narbonensis who was taught in Milan and appointed a captain of the Praetorian Guard under Diocletian and Maximian, who were unaware that he was a Christian.

According to tradition, Mark and Marcellian were twin brothers and were deacons. They were from a distinguished family and were both married, living in Rome with their wives and children. The brothers refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods and were arrested. They were visited by their father and mother, Tranquillinus and Martia, in prison, who attempted to persuade them to renounce Christianity.

Sebastian ended up converting Tranquillinus and Martia, as well as Saint Tiburtius, the son of Chromatius, the local prefect. Nicostratus, another official, and his wife Zoe were also converted. It has been said that Zoe had been a mute for six years; however, she made known to Sebastian her desire to be converted to Christianity. As soon as she had, her speech returned to her. Nicostratus then brought the rest of the prisoners; these 16 persons were also converted by Sebastian.[6]


Chromatius and Tiburtius converted; Chromatius set all of his prisoners free from jail, resigned his position, and retired to the country in Campania. Mark and Marcellian, after being concealed by a Christian named Castulus, were later martyred, as were Nicostratus, Zoe, and Tiburtius.

Martyrdom[edit]

Reliquary of St Sebastian, around 1497[7] (Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

Diocletian reproached Sebastian for his supposed betrayal, and he commanded him to be led to a field and there to be bound to a stake to be shot at. "And the archers shot at him till he was as full of arrows as an urchin,"[8] leaving him there for dead. Miraculously, the arrows did not kill him. The widow of Castulus, Irene of Rome, went to retrieve his body to bury it, and found he was still alive. She brought him back to her house and nursed him back to health. The other residents of the house doubted he was a Christian. One of those was a girl who was blind. Sebastian asked her "Do you wish to be with God?", and made the sign of the Cross on her head. "Yes", she replied, and immediately regained her sight.[citation needed] Sebastian then stood on a step and harangued Diocletian as he passed by; the emperor had him beaten to death and his body thrown into a privy. But in an apparition Sebastian told a Christian widow where they might find his body undefiled and bury it "at the catacombs by the apostles."[citation needed] Sometimes Sebastian is known as the saint who was martyred twice.

Of the miraculous effect of the example of Sebastian, the Golden Legend reports,

... Saint Gregory telleth in the first book of his Dialogues that a woman of Tuscany which was new wedded was prayed for to go with other women to the dedication of the church of Sebastian, and the night tofore she was so moved in her flesh that she might not abstain from her husband, and on the morn, she having greater shame of men than of God, went thither, and anon as she was entered into the oratory where the relics of Saint Sebastian were, the fiend took her and tormented her before all the people.

Sebastian was also said to be a defense against the plague. The Golden Legend transmits the episode of a great plague that afflicted the Lombards in the time of "King Gumburt", which was stopped by the erection of an altar in honor of Sebastian in the Church of Saint Peter in the Province of Pavia.

Location of remains[edit]

St. Sebastian (detail), Andrea Mantegna, 1480, Musée du Louvre, Paris

The remains reputed to be those of Sebastian are currently housed in Rome in the Basilica Apostolorum, built by Pope Damasus I in 367 on the site of the provisional tomb of Saints Peter and Paul. The church, today called San Sebastiano fuori le mura, was rebuilt in the 1610s under the patronage of Scipione Borghese. Others sources say that his body would have been carried from Rome to Soissons (France), into the Saint Medard abbey.

In art and literature[edit]

St. Sebastian tended by Saint Irene, Georges de La Tour c 1645

The earliest representation of Sebastian is a mosaic in the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo (Ravenna, Italy) dated between 527 and 565. The right lateral wall of the basilica contains large mosaics representing a procession of 26 martyrs, led by Saint Martin and including Sebastian. The martyrs are represented in Byzantine style, lacking any individuality, and have all identical expressions.

Another early representation is in a mosaic[9] in the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli (Rome, Italy), probably made in the year 682. It shows a grown, bearded man in court dress but contains no trace of an arrow.[10] The archers and arrows begin to appear by 1000, and ever since have been far more commonly shown than the actual moment of his death by clubbing, so that there is a popular misperception that this is how he died.[11]

As protector of potential plague victims (a connection popularized by the Golden Legend[12]) and soldiers, Sebastian occupied an important place in the popular medieval mind. He was among the most frequently depicted of all saints by Late Gothic and Renaissance artists, in the period after the Black Death.[13] The opportunity to show a semi-nude male, often in a contorted pose, also made Sebastian a favourite subject.[14] His shooting with arrows was the subject of the largest engraving by the Master of the Playing Cards in the 1430s, when there were few other current subjects with male nudes other than Christ. Sebastian appears in many other prints and paintings, although this was also due to his popularity with the faithful. Among many others, Botticelli, Perugino, Titian, Pollaiuolo, Giovanni Bellini, Guido Reni (who painted the subject seven times), Mantegna (three times), Hans Memling, Gerrit van Honthorst, Luca Signorelli, El Greco, Honoré Daumier, John Singer Sargent and Louise Bourgeois all painted Saint Sebastians. An early work by the sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini is also of Saint Sebastian.

The saint is ordinarily depicted as a handsome youth pierced by arrows. Predella scenes when required, often depicted his arrest, confrontation with the Emperor, and final beheading. The illustration in the infobox is the Saint Sebastian of Il Sodoma, at the Pitti Palace, Florence.

Woodblock of St Sebastian from South Germany, circa 1470–1475

A mainly 17th-century subject, though found in predella scenes as early as the 15th century,[15] was St Sebastian tended by St Irene, painted by Georges de La Tour, Trophime Bigot (four times), Jusepe de Ribera,[16] Hendrick ter Brugghen and others. This may have been a deliberate attempt by the Church to get away from the single nude subject, which is already recorded in Vasari as sometimes arousing inappropriate thoughts among female churchgoers.[17] The Baroque artists usually treated it as a nocturnal chiaroscuro scene, illuminated by a single candle, torch or lantern, in the style fashionable in the first half of the 17th century. There exist several cycles depicting the life of Saint Sebastian. Among them are the frescos in the "Basilica di San Sebastiano" of Acireale (Italy) with paintings by Pietro Paolo Vasta.[citation needed]

Egon Schiele, an Austrian Expressionist artist, painted a self-portrait as Saint Sebastian in 1915.[18] During Salvador Dalí's "Lorca (Federico García Lorca) Period", he painted Sebastian several times, most notably in his "Neo-Cubist Academy".[citation needed] For reasons unknown, the left vein[clarification needed] of Sebastian is always exposed.[citation needed]

In 1911, the Italian playwright Gabriele d'Annunzio in conjunction with Claude Debussy produced a mystery play on the subject.[citation needed] The American composer Gian Carlo Menotti composed a ballet score for a Ballets Russes production which was first given in 1944.[citation needed] In his novella Death in Venice, Thomas Mann hails the "Sebastian-Figure" as the supreme emblem of Apollonian beauty, that is, the artistry of differentiated forms; beauty as measured by discipline, proportion, and luminous distinctions. This allusion to Saint Sebastian's suffering, associated with the writerly professionalism of the novella's protagonist, Gustav Aschenbach, provides a model for the "heroism born of weakness", which characterizes poise amidst agonizing torment and plain acceptance of one's fate as, beyond mere patience and passivity, a stylized achievement and artistic triumph.[citation needed]

Sebastian's death was depicted in the 1949 film Fabiola, in which he was played by Massimo Girotti.[citation needed] In 1976, the British director Derek Jarman made a film, Sebastiane, which caused controversy in its treatment of the martyr as a homosexual icon. However, as several critics have noted, this has been a subtext of the imagery since the Renaissance.[19] Also in 1976, a figure of Saint Sebastian appeared throughout the American horror film Carrie.[20]

Pietro Vannucci Perugino’s painting (c. 1495) of Saint Sebastian is featured in the 2001 movie Wit starring Emma Thompson. Thompson’s character, as a college student, visits her professor's office, where an almost life-size painting of Saint Sebastian hangs on the wall. Later, when the main character is a professor herself, diagnosed with cancer, she keeps a small print of this same painting of Saint Sebastian next to her hospital bed. The allusion appears to be to Sebastian's stoic martyrdom - a role the Thompson character has willingly accepted for the betterment of all mankind. There may be a touch of authorial (or directorial) cynicism in making this "saintly" connection.

In 2007, artist Damien Hirst presented Saint Sebastian, Exquisite Pain from his Natural History series. The piece depicts a cow in formaldehyde, bound in metal cable and shot with arrows.[21]

Patronage[edit]

Lodovico Carracci's rare treatment of the subject of St. Sebastian Thrown into the Cloaca Maxima (1612)

In the Roman Catholic Church, Sebastian is commemorated by an optional memorial on 20 January. In the Church of Greece, Sebastian's feast day is on 18 December.

As a protector from the bubonic plague, Sebastian was formerly one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. The connection of the martyr shot with arrows with the plague is not an intuitive one, however. In Greco-Roman myth, Apollo, the archer god, is the deliverer of pestilence; the figure of Sebastian Christianizes this folkloric association. The chronicler Paul the Deacon relates that, in 680, Rome was freed from a raging pestilence by him.

Sebastian, like Saint George, was one of a class of military martyrs and soldier saints of the Early Christian Church whose cults originated in the 4th century and culminated at the end of the Middle Ages, in the 14th and 15th centuries both in the East and the West. Details of their martyrologies may provoke some skepticism among modern readers, but certain consistent patterns emerge that are revealing of Christian attitudes. In Catholicism, Sebastian is the patron saint of archers and of a holy death.

Saint Sebastian by Peter Paul Rubens (1604), oil on canvas, 120 x 100 cm, Antwerp
Saint Sebastian by El Greco (1578) in Cathedral of San Antolín, Palencia

Sebastian is the patron and protector saint of the city of Qormi in Malta [22] and the patron saint of Acireale, Caserta and Petilia Policastro in Italy, Melilli in Sicily, and San Sebastián as well as Palma de Mallorca in Spain. He also is the patron saint of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Informally, in the tradition of the Afro-Brazilian syncretic religion Umbanda, Sebastian is often associated with Oxossi, especially in the state of Rio de Janeiro itself.

He is also the patron of a college named for him in Manila, which is adjacent to the Parish of San Sebastian.

Sebastian is the patron saint of the Diocese of Bacolod, Negros Occidental, Philippines.

Saint Sebastian is the patron of Knights of Columbus Council #4926 in the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Jose in California, serving the cities of Mountain View and Los Altos.

In his 1906 Reminiscences, Carl Schurz recalls the annual "bird shoot" pageant of the Rhenish town of Liblar which was sponsored by the Saint Sebastian Society, a club of sharpshooters and their sponsors to which nearly every adult member of town belonged.[23]

The St. Sebastian River is named for Saint Sebastian. It is a tributary of the Indian River Lagoon and comprises part of the boundary between Indian River County and Brevard County in Florida. The adjacent city of Sebastian, Florida and St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park are also named for Saint Sebastian.[24]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Arrows of desire: How did St Sebastian become an enduring, homo-erotic icon?". The Independent. 10 February 2008. 
  2. ^ http://dcfaithinaction.org/uncategorized/2012/01/22/the-patron-saint-of-sports/
  3. ^ http://www.accsport.asn.au/acc-information/spirit-service-awards/st-sebastian-fellowship-award/about-st-sebastian
  4. ^ "Saint Sebastian Interceding for the Plague Stricken". The Walters Art Museum. 
  5. ^ Acta S. Sebastiani Martyris, in J.-P. Migne, Patrologiae Cursus Completus Accurante (Paris 1845), XVII, 1021–581221; abbreviated in Jacob de Voragine, Legenda Aurea.
  6. ^ Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, A Dictionary of Miracles: Imitative, Realistic, and Dogmatic (Chatto and Windus, 1901), 11.
  7. ^ "Reliquary of St Sebastian". Metalwork. Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 2007-08-17. 
  8. ^ Legenda Aurea.
  9. ^ Vincoli (JPEG). IT: Unica. .
  10. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia. 1908. .
  11. ^ Barker, 94–95
  12. ^ Barker, 96–97
  13. ^ Boeckl, Christine M (2000). Images of Plague and Pestilence: Iconography and Iconology. Truman State University. pp. 76–80. ISBN 978-0-943549-85-9. .
  14. ^ Barker, Sheila, The Making of a Plague Saint, ch. 4 (pp. 114–7 especially) in Piety and Plague: from Byzantium to the Baroque, Ed. Franco Mormando, Thomas Worcester Truman State University, 2007,ISBN 1-931112-73-8, ISBN 978-1-931112-73-4, Google books.
  15. ^ Boeckl, p. 77
  16. ^ Williamson, Mark A (2000). "The Martyrdom Paintings of Jusepe de Ribera: Catharsis and Transformation" (PhD dissertation). NY, USA: Binghamton University. .
  17. ^ Barker, 117
  18. ^ Zwingenberger, Jeanette (2011). Schiele. New York: Parkstone International. p. 154. ISBN 9781780421957.
  19. ^ How did St Sebastian become an enduring, homo-erotic icon?. UK: makayla Independent. 10 February 2008. .
  20. ^ "Trivia". Carrie. IMDb. 1976. Retrieved 2009-10-31. 
  21. ^ Damien Hirst. MCA Denver. .
  22. ^ http://www.qormisbparish.org
  23. ^ Carl Schurz, Reminiscences (3 vols.), New York: McClure Publ., 1907, vol. 1, chap. 2, pp. 46–8; chap. 3, pp. 81–3.
  24. ^ Sebastian Tales

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