January 20th is the feast day of St Sebastian, the patron saint of soldiers and archers, who was also commonly invoked as a protector against the plague.
According to legend, Sebastian was an officer in the elite Praetorian Guard during the reign of the emperor Diocletian (r. 284-305). He was condemned to death for being a Christian and was ordered to be shot with arrows. He was left for dead by his executioners, but was nursed back to health by a widow named Irene. Sebastian returned to confront the emperor with a renewed avowal of his faith and this time he was beaten to death with clubs. His body was then thrown into the Cloaca Maxima, the main sewer of Rome.
The ancient church of San Sebastiano Fuori le Mura (St Sebastian Outside the Walls), which is built over what is believed to be his burial place on the Via Appia, is home to a beautiful sculpture of the saint, the work of Giuseppe Giorgetti (died 1682).
The church of San Sebastiano al Palatino stands on the putative site of the saint's 'first' martyrdom.
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My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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