MS H.8, fols. 178v–179r

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St. Sebastian: Sebastian Shot with Arrows, Abandoned by Archers

Hours of Henry VIII
Illuminated by Jean Poyer

France, Tours
ca. 1500
256 x 180 mm

Gift of the Heineman Foundation, 1977

MS H.8, fols. 178v–179r

St. Sebastian: Sebastian Shot with Arrows, Abandoned by Archers
Border: Sebastian's Body Cast into the Sewer (fol. 179)

During the late Middle Ages, Sebastian was usually depicted as a handsome, beardless youth, bound to a stake and pierced with arrows, his eyes looking heavenward. From the fifteenth century on he was nude (or nearly so).

Poyer's muscular Sebastian, his eyes turned upward, and clothed in a loincloth, is based on an Italian model. (Feast day: January 20)

In the lower margin two men dump Sebastian's shrouded body into the sewer. To the right a figure leaning on his staff, probably the emperor, oversees the operation, while at the left three Christians, including the matron Lucina, wait to reclaim the body.

St. Sebastian
According to legend, Sebastian was born in Gaul and raised in Milan. Although a Christian, he joined the Roman army in 283, rising to captain in the Praetorian Guard under Emperor Diocletian. Sebastian clandestinely assisted and consoled imprisoned Christians in addition to converting and baptizing other soldiers and civilians. His own religious convictions remained a secret until the tortures inflicted on his Christian friends Marcus and Marcellinus so infuriated him that he publicly proclaimed his faith. He was then condemned to die as a target for archery practice. After the attack a pious widow, Irene, claimed the body but discovered that Sebastian was still alive. She nursed him back to health, and he returned to the palace to confront the emperor. Diocletian promptly ordered Sebastian beaten to death and the body dumped into the Cloaca Maxima, the main sewer of Rome, preventing Christians from preserving and venerating it as the relic of a martyr. On the following night, however, the saint appeared to a Roman matron, St. Lucina, revealing the location of his body, which was subsequently retrieved and interred in the catacomb on the Appian Way.