The “Martyrdom of St. Sebastian,” a 1465 tempera work by Benozzo Gozzoli (perhaps best known for his murals in the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi,) shows the saint pierced by arrows… which was the price of offending the pagan Roman emperor by working secretly for the good of Christians suffering persecution in Rome. Legend relates that the arrows did not actually kill him; he recovered and eventually confronted the emperor by waiting at a place he knew Diocletian would pass. Sebastian chastised him for his cruelty and called him everything but a worthy public servant. For this, he was beaten to death with clubs and his body dumped in the sewer; it was eventually recovered and entombed.
In 367 a basilica was built over the site of his grave. The site was — about twelve centuries later — ransacked by rampaging Calvinists, who (again) dumped the bones in a ditch. They were again recovered (although they had been mixed with the bones of other saints, and so the knowledge of which bones belonged to which saint was lost). In 1578, these bones were recovered and today are in reliquaries in numerous locations, including Paris, Luxemburg, Antwerp, and Brussels.
The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that the veneration of Sebastian dates to at least the time of Ambrose and that the oldest known depiction of him comes from around the year 682 and shows ” a grown, bearded man in court dress but contains no trace of an arrow. It was the art of the Renaissance that first portrayed him as a youth pierced by arrows.”
Today is St. Sebastian’s feast day. St. Sebastian is considered a protector against the plague; hopefully, he can also do something for the flu.
Grant us, we pray, O Lord, a spirit of fortitude,
so that, taught by the glorious example
of your Martyr Saint Sebastian,
we may learn to obey you rather than men.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. +Amen.