St. Sebastian is known as the patron saint of plagues. According to traditional belief, he was killed during the Diocletian Persecution. Initially he was tied to a post and shot with arrows. But this did not kill him. He was rescued and healed. Then, shortly after his recovery he went to the emperor to warn him about his “sins”, and as a result was put to death. (Some might call it punishing a soldier for insubordination and treason…) Religious extremism aside, the image of St. Sebastian became extremely popular and important in the late Middle Ages as an apotropaic defense against the plague. The connection of the martyr shot with arrows to the plague is not an intuitive one. It might have come about because arrow-wounds can resemble the buboes that were symptoms of bubonic plague. It’s also been suggested that there is some connection to folkloric traditions and/or Apollo’s plague arrows. But however the association developed, the enduring idea is that one can recover from illness and adversity and go on to fulfill one’s purpose.
SEBASTIAN, 2021, Egg Tempera, 22cm x 30cm x 3.5cm (Alter), available.