persecution of Christians
he first came to power Diocletian (profile shown at right) tolerated
Christianity. In fact, his wife and daughter were probably Christian.
Soon, though, advisors persuaded him that Christianity was a danger
to the empire and should be eliminated. His persecution, the worst
suffered by the church, began with the army and the civil service.
In place after place, Christians were rounded up.
a dutiful soldier as the persecutions began. Yet, his whispered words,
his small kindnesses, the human face he turned to those terrified
by the harsh world of Roman justice, answered the call of Jesus: "I
was a prisoner, and you visited me."
however, discovered that Sebastian was a Christian and informed on
him. The emperor, enraged by what he considered disloyalty, ordered
him shot to death with arrows. He was stretched out on a post, the
archers took aim, fired, and left him for dead.
Irene, a Christian
widow, one of several Christian women who served the Christian community
by burying the martyrs, came to take Sebastian's body away for burial
and found him still alive. She took him back to her own home, hiding
him and nursing him until he recovered from his wounds. (right:
Terbrugghen's c. 1625 painting of Irene and her maid nursing Sebastian)
As soon as he
was well, instead of escaping, Sebastian returned to the emperor's
palace on the Palatine Hill and confronted Diocletian for his cruelty
to Christians. The emperor was enraged and ordered him beaten to death.
His body was then thrown into the sewer. The little church of St.
Sebastiano on the Palatine Hill stands today on the site where Sebastian
was martyred in 288.
Later, his body
was recovered by a married woman, Lucina, who buried it in her family's
crypt along the Appian Way, where the ancient basilica and catacombs
now bear the soldier saint's name.