Narbonne (France), towards the middle of the 3rd century.
Rome (Italy), in the beginning of the 4th century.
No process of canonization existed at the time of Saint Sebastian’s death, but after his death the Christians began to venerate him as a saint.
Saint Sebastian is a 4th century martyr of whom we have very few certain facts. The story of his martyrdom was redacted two centuries later and some details do not coincide with other known historical facts. However, to tell the story of his life, we will base the following account on this document, since it is the only document that the hagiographers have been able to rely upon.
Saint Sebastian was born in Narbonne, France, but was educated in Milan, Italy. His father was a soldier of the nobility. Following in the footsteps of his father, he began a military career at a young age and reached the rank of officer-in-command of the first cohort of the Praetorian Guard, a very prestigious position, which helps us understand the great appreciation that the Emperor had for him.
The young Sebastian carried out all his professional obligations as a soldier, but he did not take part in the acts of idolatry. He lived his faith secretly, not out of cowardice but rather out of prudence. His privileged position permitted him to do good to other Christians and if this were discovered he would lose this possibility. He used his position to evangelize, visiting and encouraging the imprisoned Christians, giving them strength and consolation.
According to the account of his “passion,” Saint Sebastian helped two Roman men who had been arrested because of their faith. The two men were brothers, Marcus and Marcellian, who died as martyrs. The two young men were sent to prison and given 30 days to deny their faith in God. If, after this time, they decided to continue believing in God, they would be martyred. Sebastian instilled in them the desire and courage to give their lives for Christ. Several conversions among their fellow prisoners followed this episode and the Emperor then realized that Sebastian was a Christian. Because of this, the Emperor had him brought before him to reproach his conduct and told him that he had to abandon his religion or renounce his position. Saint Sebastian chose Christ and the Emperor, feeling deceived, condemned him to death by arrows.
In the Roman Palatine, he was tied to a stake and shot with arrows. When they though him to be dead, the soldiers left his body abandoned there, however, he had not died. A Christian woman, whose name was Irene, went to retrieve his body to bury it, and found that he was alive. She hid him in her house and cured his wounds. Once he had recovered, he was advised to leave Rome. But he, who had already experienced in some way martyrdom, decided to go before the Emperor to beg him to stop persecuting the Christians. The Emperor was initially surprised that Sebastian was still alive, but angered before such audacity, he ordered him to be flogged to death.
Once he was dead, they dragged his body to a common grave. The Christians secretly recovered his body and buried it in the underground cemetery on the Appian Way. This catacomb is still conserved today and once the Christians were free to practice their religion, the Basilica of Saint Sebastian was built on top of the catacomb.
The devotion to Saint Sebastian dates back to ancient times and has been uninterrupted throughout history. In the year 680, he was invoked as a protector saint during a great plague in the city of Rome. After praying for his intercession, the plague ceased inexplicably and immediately. Since then the devotion to him was spread even more.
We omit the sections about the Eucharist and Mary because there are no known facts about the spiritual life of this saint. Neither can we recommend reading material, since, as previously stated, the only referential text about the saint was written two centuries after his martyrdom in the "Passio Sancti Sebastiani", whose author is unknown.
In Rome you can visit the place where Saint Sebastian was buried in the catacombs that are named after him. His remains are now conserved in the Basilica that was later built over his burial place, and that is also named after Saint Sebastian.
You can find more information and the contact information for the Basilica and the Catacombs of Saint Sebastian in the official website: www.catacombe.org