Saint Sebastian lived in the mid to late third century, born in the Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis, today southeastern France, and later a student in Milan.
In 283 A.D., Sebastian joined the army in Rome under Emperor Carinus and rose to the Praetorian Guard under Diocletian and Maximian, both unaware he was Catholic.
Sebastian had prudently concealed his Faith under the Christian persecution by Diocletian, but in 286 A.D. he was discovered. Reproached by the Emperor, he replied: “Always I have worshiped Jesus Christ for thy health and for the state of Rome, and I think for to pray and demand help of the idols of stone is a great folly.”
Diocletian commanded him to be led into a field and bound to stake so archers from Mauritania could execute him by arrows. His hagiography, the Golden Legend, describes the event as so:
“With these words Diocletian was much angry and wroth, and 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 is full of pricks, and thus left him there for dead. The night after came a christian woman for to take his body and to bury it, but she found him alive and brought him to her house, and took charge of him till he was all whole.”
Despite being riddled by arrows, he miraculously survived and was cared for by Saint Irene of Rome who at first went to retrieve his body but instead found him alive. After he recovered, he went and stood on a staircase when Diocletian would soon pass, and harangued him for his cruelties against Catholics. The Golden Legend tells the story as so:
“Many christian men came to him which counselled him to void the place, but he was comforted and stood upon a step where the emperor should pass by, and said to him: The bishops of the idols deceive you evilly which accuse the christian men to be contrary to the common profit of the city, that pray for your estate and for the health of Rome. Diocletian said: Art thou not Sebastian whom we commanded to be shot to death. And S. Sebastian said: Therefore our Lord hath rendered to me life to the end that I should tell you that evilly and cruelly ye do persecutions unto christian men. Then Diocletian made him to be brought into prison into his palace, and to beat him so sore with stones till he died. And the tyrants threw his body into a great privy, because the christian men should make no feast to bury his body, ne of his martyrdom. But S. Sebastian appeared after to S. Lucy, a glorious widow, and said to her: In such a privy shalt thou find my body hanging at an hook, which is not defouled with none ordure, when thou hast washed it thou shalt bury it at the catacombs by the apostles. And the same night she and her servants accomplished all that Sebastian had commanded her. He was martyred the year of our Lord two hundred and eighty seven.”
After his “second” martyrdom by clubbing, Saint Lucy recovered his body and buried it in the catacombs the entrance of the cemetery of Calixtus, where today stands the Basilica of Saint Sebastian.
Today his feast day is celebrated on January 20th, his patronage being that of soldiers, archers, and persecuted Catholics.