Saint Sebastian, Martyr
St. Sebastian was born at Narbonne, in Gaul, but his parents were natives of Milan, in Italy. Thus it was in Milan where St. Sebastian was brought up. He was a fervent servant of Christ, and his natural inclinations gave him an aversion to a military life. Yet, he went to Rome and entered the army under the emperor Carinus to be better able to assist the confessors and martyrs in their sufferings, without suspicion. He was diligent in helping his brother Christians, and particularly those who languished in prison. He not only helped the prisoners with alms but also encouraged them to suffer for Jesus Christ.
It so happened that the martyrs, Marcus and Marcellianus, having been sentenced to death, appeared in danger of being shaken in their faith by the tears of their friends. St. Sebastian, seeing this, ran instantly to their assistance, and God’s blessing so accompanied his words, that he induced them to receive a most cruel death with joy.
St. Zoe, the wife of Nicostratus, having lost the use of speech by a palsy in her tongue for six years, fell at St. Sebastian’s feet, and then spoke distinctly, as a result of the saint making the Sign of the Cross on her mouth. St. Zoe and Nicostratus, who was master of the rolls; the parents of Marcus and Marcellianus; the jailer Claudius; and 64 prisoners were all converted by St. Sebastian.
Nicostratus, who had charge of the prisoners, took them to his own house, where the holy priest, Polycarp, instructed and baptized them. Chromatius, governor of Rome, being informed of this and that Tranquillinus, the father of Saints Marcus and Marcellianus, had been cured of the gout by receiving baptism, desired to be instructed in the faith himself, being grievously afflicted with the same distemper. Accordingly, having sent for St. Sebastian, Chromatius was cured by him and was baptized along with his entire family and 1400 slaves. Chromatius then increased the number of prisoners he had converted, freed his slaves, and resigned his prefectship. Chromatius, with the emperor’s consent, then retired into the country in Campania, taking many new converts along with him.
It became a contest of zeal, out of a mutual desire of martyrdom, between St. Sebastian and the priest Polycarp as to which of them should accompany this troop, to complete their instruction, and which should remain in the city to encourage and assist the martyrs, the city being in the more dangerous province. Pope Caius, who was appealed to, judged it most proper that St. Sebastian should stay in Rome as a defender of the Church. In the year 286, with the persecution of Christians growing hot, the Pope and others concealed themselves in the imperial palace, as a place of the greatest safety, in the apartments of Castulus, a Christian officer of the court.
St. Zoe was the first to be apprehended, while praying at St. Peter’s tomb on the Feast of the Apostles. She was stifled with smoke, being hung by the heels over a fire. Tranquillinus, ashamed to be less courageous than a woman, went to pray at the tomb of St. Paul and was seized and stoned to death. Nicostratus, Claudius, Castorius, and Victorinus were taken and, after having been tortured three times, were thrown into the sea. Tiburtius, betrayed by a false brother, was beheaded. Castulus, accused by the same wretch, was put on the rack three times and afterwards buried alive. Marcus and Marcellianus were nailed by the feet to a post and, having remained in that torment for twenty-four hours, were then shot to death by arrows.
St. Sebastian, was himself impeached before the Emperor Diocletian. The emperor, having grievously reproached St. Sebastian with ingratitude, delivered him over to the archers to be shot to death. His body was covered with arrows, and he was left for dead.
Irene, the widow of St. Castulus, went to bury the body of St. Sebastian but found him to be still alive. She took him to her lodgings, where he recovered. One day he stood by a staircase where the emperor was to pass. Seeing the emperor, St. Sebastian then said to him: “How long, O Prince, wilt thou believe the calumnies that have been spread against the Christians? I have returned to tell thee again that thou hast not in the empire subjects more faithful than the Christians, who by their prayers obtain for thee all thy prosperity.”
This admonition, from a person supposed to have been dead, greatly astonished the emperor. Recovering from his surprise, the emperor gave orders for St. Sebastian to be seized, scourged to death, and his body then thrown into a marsh.
A pious lady, called Lucina, admonished by the martyr in a vision, got the body privately removed. She then buried it in the catacombs at the entrance of the cemetery which is now called the “Catacombs of St. Sebastian.” A church was afterwards built over St. Sebastian’s relics by Pope Damascus, which is one of the seven ancient stationary churches at Rome.
St. Sebastian has always been honored by the Church as one of Her most illustrious martyrs. In the year 680, Rome was freed from a raging pestilence by the patronage of this saint. Milan in 1575, Lisbon in 1599, and other places have also experienced the effects of his intercession with God on their behalf during like calamities.