By Anne Leader

Today (20 January) is the feast day of St. Sebastian. A favorite for those seeking protection from the plague, St Sebastian is typically shown shot through with arrows in reference to his attempted martyrdom. The painful wounds were to bring comfort to those afflicted with illness, especially diseases that affected the skin, as they did not lead to Sebastian’s death.  Instead, he was nursed back to health by St. Irene.  Unrelenting in their desire to rid the capital of Christians, however, the Roman authorities redoubled their efforts, killing the young Sebastian and dumping his body unceremoniously in the great sewer (cloaca maxima) of Rome.

Pietro Perugino, St. Sebastian, c. 1495, panel, Musée du Louvre, Paris

Alessandro Vittoria, St Sebastian, c. 1600, marble, San Salvador, Venice

Antonio del Pollaiuolo, Martyrdom of St Sebastian, 1473-75, panel, National Gallery, London

Marcantonio Bassetti, St Sebastian Tended by St Irene, c. 1620, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Marseille

Lodovico Carracci, St. Sebastian Thrown into the Cloaca Maxima, oil on canvas, 1612, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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