Basilica of St SebastianSebastian, the Soldier Saint

The Basilica of St. Sebastian, outside of Rome, along the Appian Way, is one of the most ancient and venerated of Rome's pilgrimage sites (shown at right). A chapel on the left of the church marks the place where Sebastian, one of the early soldier saints, was buried in the catacombs below.

According to popular tradition, Sebastian grew up in a Christian family in the Roman city of Milan, late in the 3rd century. As a young man he took an unusual step for a Christian: he joined the Roman army. It was unusual because many Christians then, seeing the army as the strong arm of an evil society, resisted service in the military.

Sebastian became a soldier, however, not to advance Roman power, or for personal gain. He became a soldier in order to support vulnerable people, among them Christians, condemned to prison and likely to suffer a martyrís death. As a soldier, Sebastian thought, he could help them in suffering and death. To do this, however, he kept his religion a secret.

He was a good soldier and rose quickly in the ranks. Soon, he caught the attention of the Emperor Diocletian himself, who made him captain of a company of praetorian guards, the emperorís personal bodyguards. Diocletian, one of Romeís finest generals, liked able soldiers around him. Most importantly, he looked for loyalty, and Sebastian seemed to have all these qualities.

more: Diocletian's persecution of Christians

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Sebastian, the soldier saint • act with Compassionfront page

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