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st.sebastianAccording to popular historical legend, Sebastian was born at Narbonne, Gaul. Son of a wealthy Roman family, he was educated in Milan. He became a soldier in the Roman army in about 283 AD. He served originally as a regular legionnaire, winning acclaim in combat and the eye of the emperor.

Sebastian was named captain in the Roman praetorian guards by Emperor Diocletian. He was secretly a Christian and encouraged the martyrs Marcellian and Marcus, under sentence of death, to remain firm in their faith. When it was discovered during Maximian`s persecution of the Christians that Sebastian was indeed a Christian, he was ordered executed.

He tied naked to a column and was then shot with dozens of arrows by elite archers from Mauritania and left for dead. When the widow of St. Castulus went to recover his body, she found he was still alive and nursed him back to health. Soon after, Sebastian intercepted the Emperor and denounced him for his cruelty to Christians.

This insult from a person whom was supposed to have been dead upset the emperor who gave orders for Sebastian to be seized and beat to death with cudgels on January 20th (now his feast day) 288 in Rome. Afterward his body was mutilated and thrown into the common sewer. 

It was later retrieved and hidden in the catacombs. The martyrs Tranquillinus and Tiburtius were killed at around the same time. They were connected with the soldier-martyr St Sebastian and were entombed at the Via Lavicana. It is believed that one of the arrows that pierced him is at the San Sebastiano fuori le mura ad Catacumbas basilica in Rome, built on the site of where his body was hidden.

Saint Sebastian was venerated at Milan as early as the time of St. Ambrose and was buried on the Appian Way. The relics of mortal remains asserted to be those of St. Sebastian are currently housed in the Basilica Apostolorum (one of the seven main churches in Rome, built by Pope Damasus II in 367, on the site of the provisional tomb of St. Peter and St. Paul.) St Sebastian is thought of as the traditional patron saint of the Infantryman, as well as archers; armorers; arrow smiths; fletchers; gunsmiths and police officers. The Pope’s Pontifical Swiss Guards and the Spanish Guardia Civil national police force both recognize St Sebastian as their patron saint. Images and icons of him have been prayed to by Catholics under arms for over a thousand years.

Saint Sebastian is possibly one of the most well published of the `military saints`. From Piero della Francesca to Pierre et Gilles, there are 100s of drawings and paintings and photographs and sculptures of the arrow-riddled saint spanning centuries and continents. These include the famous `The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian, by Andrea Mantegna and an Esquire magazine cover with Mohammed Ali pierced in the same way as Sebastian.