Saint of the day:
Patron Saint of Soldiers, athletes, plague-stricken, archers, holy Christian death, and those who desire a saintly death
Saint Sebastian’s Story
Almost nothing is historically certain about Sebastian except that he was a Roman martyr, was venerated in Milan even in the time of Saint Ambrose and was buried on the Appian Way, probably near the present Basilica of St. Sebastian. Devotion to him spread rapidly, and he is mentioned in several martyrologies as early as 350.
The legend of Saint Sebastian is important in art, and there is a vast iconography. Scholars now agree that a pious fable has Sebastian entering the Roman army because only there could he assist the martyrs without arousing suspicion. Finally he was found out, brought before Emperor Diocletian and delivered to Mauritanian archers to be shot to death. His body was pierced with arrows, and he was left for dead. But he was found still alive by those who came to bury him. He recovered, but refused to flee.
One day he took up a position near where the emperor was to pass. He accosted the emperor, denouncing him for his cruelty to Christians. This time the sentence of death was carried out. Sebastian was beaten to death with clubs. He was buried on the Appian Way, close to the catacombs that bear his name.
*Festival of St Sebastian in Lubrin in Spain
(d. 288, Rome, Italy) (Relics: Rome, Italy)
The body of St Sebastian and a major part of the relics of St Gregory the Great are said to have been taken to Soissons, France in 826 AD. Alban Butler in The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints claims that in 1564 these relics were stolen and thrown into a ditch by Calvinists. This tradition then maintains that some of these desecrated relics were recovered and subsequently placed into surrounding churches in that area. Despite this tradition the veneration of their relics in Rome has been maintained for centuries.
San Sebastiano Fuori Le Mura
(Saint Sebastian Outside the Walls)
Via Appia Antica 136
*This church is southeast of the Aurelian Walls.
*St Sebastian was originally buried in the catacombs located under this church. At some point, however,
these remains were removed. Some of these relics are now located within an urn in a chapel on the left side of the nave.
This is the chapel with the very impressive statue of St Sebastian created by Giuseppe Giorgetti.
*Directly across from this chapel on the right side of the nave is a reliquary chapel that contains the column to which St Sebastian was tied and an arrow that pierced his flesh. Also within this same reliquary chapel are some small relics said to be from
St Peter, St Paul, St Andrew, and a number of other saints including the pope, St Fabian (d. 250).
St Fabian was originally buried in the Catacombs of San Callisto but later his remains were moved to this church.
*This church has an ancient tradition connecting it to St Peter and to St Paul. The Depositio Martyrum shows that in the year 258 pilgrims
came to San Sebastiano Fuori Le Mura on June 29th, the Feast Day of Saints Peter and Paul, to honor these two great saints.
Therefore, it is presumed that at one time this church housed the remains of both St Peter and St Paul.
*Tradition also claims that within the catacombs located under this church St Philip Neri (d. 1595)
experienced such an enlargement of his heart due to a supernatural infusion of God’s love that two of his ribs cracked.
St Peter’s Basilica
*The skull of St Sebastian is placed within a glass-sided reliquary in this museum.
*Also the second chapel on the right side of the nave is dedicated to St Sebastian. A mosaic within this chapel depicts his martyrdom. The original painting that this mosaic replaced hangs within the Roman church Santa Maria degli Angeli.
Santi Quattro Coronati
(Four Holy Crowned Ones)
Piazza dei Santi Quattro Coronati 20
*This church is east of the Colosseum.
*For centuries the skull of St Sebastian was venerated within the crypt of this church. Signage at an altar on the left side of the nave continues to indicate its presence. However, at some point in the last century the skull was removed. It can now be found within a reliquary in the Treasury Museum of St Peter’s Basilica as noted above.
Churches of Honor in Rome
Sant'Andrea della Valle
(Saint Andrew of the Valley)
Piazza Vidoni 6 / Piazza Sant'Andrea della Valle
*This church is located along the Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Prior to the construction of this church in the 17th century a small church dedicated to St Sebastian was located here. Tradition claims that this ancient church rested upon a sewer from which the body of St Sebastian was recovered following his martyrdom. Today a remnant of this ancient church is partially preserved within a niche found in the first chapel on the left side of the nave.
*Also the third chapel on the left side of the nave is dedicated to St Sebastian.
The altarpiece within this chapel was painted by Giovanni de’ Vecchi in 1614.
San Sebastiano al Palatino
(Saint Sebastian at the Palatine)
Via San Bonaventura 1
*This church is located in the Roman Forum. It is not open often.
*St Sebastian had been a member of the Roman Emperor’s Praetorian Guard and therefore lived and worked in the Roman Forum. This church honors the memory of St Sebastian’s presence in the Roman Forum and his attempts to evangelize the Roman people. A small relic of St Sebastian rests in the sacristy of this church.
St. Sebastian Catacombs
FESTIVAL OF SANSEBASTIANO IN SICILY
There are many patron saint festivals in Italy, but few can top the festival of San Sebastiano – St. Sebastian – in Sicily.
San Sebastiano is most often depicted as a young martyr tied to a post, wearing only a loincloth, and bearing a strangely serene expression for someone who is stuck through with arrows. Shooting him with arrows was actually the first attempt at killing him for his Christian beliefs, and after being nursed back to health, he went off to harangue the Roman emperor Diocletian for persecuting Christians and was promptly clubbed to death. So, a serene but belligerent martyr he was.
San Sebastiano is one of three patron saints in the Sicilian town of Palazzolo Acreide, about a 40-minute drive from where I live in eastern Sicily. I had heard much about this festival and finally, the timing was right, so off I went with Emanuele & friends in tow.
The two most intriguing things about this festival are the “sciuta”, Sicilian for the “exit” or when the San Sebastiano statue on a gilded cart exits the church, carried on the shoulders of an army of men dressed in white and red. I was told that there was much fanfare and it was “molto, molto bello.” I’m used to the Sicilian’s fondness for exaggeration and figured it would be similar to many festivals I had already seen. Boy, was I wrong.
The second intriguing thing, that borders on the bizarre, is that little babies, who are often stripped naked – apparently this is to echo the nudity of San Sebastiano – are offered up to the saint’s statue as a kind of blessing to protect them. The babies might wear a necklace bearing banknotes that are pinned to the outside of the cart, but donations of coins are also accepted.
Join in the celebrations as these pictures depict how the festival of San Sebastiano unfolds.
When first arriving in town, we are met with a line of bancarelle, stands to sell an assortment of stuff, from straw hats to ward off the hot sun to cheap plastic toys made in China to entice the hoards of children into pestering their parents. Sales are slow.
But we are looking for tradition and folklore, and soon we find it outside the church steps. There is a cart selling cuddure, ring-shaped breads that celebrate the wheat harvest in August. Bakeries donate these breads to the festival, and the money from purchases goes to finance the celebrations.
Soon a band starts playing and a parade starts, and the festive atmosphere heats up.
Finally, a few loud firecrackers announce that the sciuta is happening soon, and everyone squeezes into the piazza in front of the church. The sun is fierce and tensions are high – I argue with a tall guy who pushes in front of me, and he agrees to squat so that I can see over his head. And then the sciuta begins.
The first moments of the sciuta are electrifying. Some of the men who will help to carry the statue call out with arms raised exhorting San Sebastiano to come out of the church. Just as the cart reaches the doorway a series of loud explosions are accompanied by violent sprays of ‘nzareddi, colored paper ribbons.
The continued explosions are deafening and the church is obscured in a swirl of colors and smoke, while people shout and raise their fists in the air. I’m in the midst of a psychedelic bombardment, and as the crowd surges forward, I lose Emanuele in a whirl of colors. My heart is pounding, my hands are shaking and it’s hard to keep the camera still.
Finally the colors part, the smoke clears and we can see the cart of San Sebastiano!
I follow the cart as it is carried through the town, and babies are held up to receive the blessings of San Sebastiano, who becomes their protector. Sometimes the babies are stripped naked, mimicking the nudity of the saint. As they are lifted up to the heavens, the crowd rejoices, Viva San Sebastiano! I’m swept up in the soaring energy.
Not all the babies are as thrilled as the spectators. I almost feel like crying, too.
As the statue of San Sebastiano heads down a side street, the piazza is suddenly overrun with children frolicking in the ribbons of paper, while a priest and other devotees walk solemnly through the riot of colors. A few diligent workers are busily dumping buckets of water on little fires that have sprung up in the paper ribbons.
All in all, it was one of the most emotional patron saint celebrations I’ve witnessed in Italy, an exuberant but exhausting experience.
Traditions & Recipe:
FESTIVAL OF SAN SEBASTIÁN IN LUBRÍN
PARTY OF THE BREAD 19th AND 20th OF JANUARY
The next January 19 and 20, Lubrin, in the province of Almeria, celebrates its traditional "Bread Festival" in honor of its patron, San Sebastian.
This festival, declared of Tourist Interest of Andalusia, also known as "the party of the roscos", "of the saint" or even "sanse" by the young people, summons thousands of people each year.
Apparently, this ancient custom of sharing bread, the primary symbol of food, has its origins in several causes, such as success in military campaigns, end of epidemics of cholera and plague, recovery of lost crops or end of years of poverty, all them by the intersection of the patron saint of the town.
On the 20th, in Lubrín, the whole town participates in the "Santo" party, some throwing from the balconies and windows of the houses through which the procession passes, bread, threads and also money and flowers, others, processioning with mastery the throne of the patron, "the rosqueros", "struggling" to catch the roscos thrown in the air during the tour, and those who watch enthusiastically for such a unique celebration, until everyone ends up in the town square sharing with family and friends the roscos obtained, many of them stuffed with anchovies.
The participation of young peñas is most interesting because of the color and the joy they bring, as well as the "sittings" they perform before the saint to regulate the time of the procession's journey.
Come to Lubrin to the fería del Santo, one of the most traditional festivals in Almería.
Roscos Orange Donuts
Ingredients for about 40 cookies
90 g of unsalted butter at room temperature (1/2 cup of unsalted butter)
110 g of sugar (1/2 cup of sugar)
1 sachet of vanilla sugar (about 7-10 g) or a (TBSP of vanilla)
1 pinch of salt
grated zest of 1 orange
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 egg L and 1 yolk
200 g of flour (1 cup of AP flour)
1 package of yeast
Preheat the oven to 180 ° C / 355°F
Prepare a pan of trays greasing them or line.
Place the butter in a large bowl and beat (Cream).
Add the sugar and vanilla sugar and beat a few minutes until you get a spongy and homogeneous mixture.
Let the dough rest for an hour.
Fill a pastry bag with the dough.
You can use a large flat nozzle or simply cut the tip with scissors.
Form slightly separated roscos, of the desired size.
Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown.
Let cool on a rack and decorate with powder sugar.