Saturday, September 5, 2009
St. Sebastian the martyr
The details of Sebastian's martyrdom were first elaborated by Ambrose of Milan, in his sermon (number XX) on Psalm 118. Ambrose stated that Sebastian came from Milan and that he was already venerated there in the fourth century.According to Sebastian's fifth-century Acta Sanctorum, still attributed to Ambrose by the seventeenth-century hagiographer Jean Bolland, and the briefer account in Legenda Aurea, he was a man of Gallia Narbonensis who was taught in Milan and appointed as a captain of the Praetorian Guard under Diocletian and Maximian, who were unaware that he was a Christian.
Sebastian was reportedly known for having encouraged in their faith two Christian prisoners due for martyrdom, Mark and Marcellian, who were bewailed and entreated by their family to forswear Christ and offer token sacrifice. His aura cured a woman of her muteness, and the miracle instantly converted 78 persons.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. According to the legend, Zoe had been a mute for 6 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.Chromatius and Tiburtius became converts; 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.
Diocletian reproached Sebastian for his supposed betrayal, and "he commanded him to be led to the field and there to be bounden to a stake for to be shot at. And the archers shot at him till he was as full of arrows as an urchin (hedgehog)," 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. Sebastian then stood on a step and harangued Diocletian as he passed by; the emperor had him beaten to death and his body thrown in 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."