Feast day 20th of January
- Martyred in 287/8 AD (On January 20) * (see note)
- Patron saint of soldiers, the plague-stricken, archers, holy Christian death and athletes
Very Brief History
As an army officer in modern-day Italy, St. Sebastian converted many prisoners, officials and other officers. Even when he was imprisoned, he continued his successful ministry.
Eventually, Emperor Diocletian decided to have Sebastian executed and had him bound to a tree and shot with many arrows. Most artwork of St. Sebastian shows him in this pose, and many believe he died from this. In fact, when St. Irene of Rome retrieved the body for burial she discovered he was still alive. She nursed him back to health.
Without further ado, Sebastian returned to the Emperor to implore him to turn from his sins and stop persecuting Christians. The Emperor’s response was to make sure Sebastian’s martyrdom was completed.
Despite being thrown into the sewers, Sebastian’s body was recovered and buried at the entrance to the cemetery of Calixtus. So great was his subsequent following, that only 80 years later, Pope Damasus I (in 367 AD) had a basilica built in his honor on the spot of his burial. This would indicate that he was already known for devotion and (likely) miracles. (The basilica was rebuilt in the 1610s.)
During his ministry, St. Sebastian is believed to have converted and baptized at least 1400 souls which is a miracle in itself!
Miracles of legend
(It is impossible to verify how many of these were true, but where there is smoke, there is usually fire…)
- radiant appearance – Apparently, observers saw his face shining like an angel and clothed by an angelic, radiant garment.
- cured a mute woman – Sebastian made the sign of the cross over Zoe, the mute wife of one of his converts who desired conversion herself. Her speech returned to her. She testified that she had seen an angel holding an open book with St. Sebastian’s words written in it. All those who observed became Christians.
- cured the sick – A man named Claudius, upon being told about the healing St. Sebastian was performing, brought his own sons to be healed. They ended up being baptized as well.
- cured a man of gout – Apparently when Chromatius, governor of Rome heard of Sebastian’s healing works, he sent for the healer and was cured of his gout and subsequently baptized with his son, Tiburtius. He soon, thereafter, resigned his office and took many Christians into hiding in southern Italy.
- cured a woman of blindness – When Sebastian was at St. Irene’s house, his faith was questioned by the members of the household. He was led of God to ask a blind member whether she wished to be with God. Upon affirming her desire, she regained her sight.
- stopped an outbreak of plague – An altar in honor of Sebastian is credited with halting the great plague in the Province of Pavia in northern modern Italy.
- halting pestilence (bubonic plague) – Sebastian is credited with freeing Rome from a “pestilence” in 680AD
- plague intercession – Sebastian was often called upon in the 14th century to deliver towns from bubonic plague. He was also credited with halting plague in Milan (1575) and Lisbon (1599) among other places.
- calming the seas – During a violent storm, a ship was in danger of sinking. The crew threw boxes overboard to lighten the load. When two of the boxes hit the water, the seas calmed instantly. The ship was able to continue. When the boxes reached the shore, they were found to contain two statues – one of Santiago and the other of St. Sebastian which remains in the church of Diriamba in Nicaragua.
Jake Simpson reports that when he prays to St. Sebastian, asking for strength and courage, his athletic performance is at its best.
Nicaraguans flock to the church of Diriamba for St. Sebastian’s feast day to ask for intersession.
(I will add to this as appropriate, especially if you comment below!)
Prayers to St. Sebastian
From religiousnews.com for athletes:
“St. Sebastian, patron saint of athletes and sports, help me to do the best that I can, aim high and always give it my best effort, and if I should fail, give me the strength to try harder. Amen.”
“Dear Commander at the Roman Emperor’s court, you chose to be also a soldier of Christ and dared to spread faith in the King of Kings, for which you were condemned to die. Your body, however, proved athletically strong and the executing arrows extremely weak. So another means to kill you was chosen and you gave your life to the Lord. May all athletes (or “people of Diriamba”) be always as strong in their faith as their Patron Saint so clearly has been. Amen.”
(You may change the subject as needed – as the people of Diriamba have.)
A novena is a special, 9-day prayer. This one, ideally, should be said from the 12th to the 20th of January in honor of his martyrdom, but don’t let that stop you saying it when you need it.
Please. If your life has been touched by St. Sebastian please leave a comment so that the faith of others will be strengthened.
*Note: Some resources say he died in 287AD, some say 288AD. My best guess for this discrepancy is that the year did not yet begin in January. In genealogy, we will normally refer to the dates from January to March of the year in this form: 287/8 AD – to indicate that the year number hadn’t actually changed yet, but to remove the confusion as to which year we are referring.
In addition to Wikipedia, I used the following resources for this article:
Johnsanidopoulos.com (excellent and essential reading for anyone who wants to make St. Sebastian a part of their lives.)