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
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.
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