Sebastian and the emperor
According to legend, Saint Sebastian – whose statue (created by Giuseppe Giorgetti in the mid-17th century) and relics are now in the Roman Basilica of the same name on Via Appia – was a friend of Diocletian (284-305). It is said he was a kind of bodyguard to the emperor, as head of the first imperial court, in Rome to defend him.
He also was a Christian. Thus, when Diocletian started persecuting the Christian faith, Sebastian was ordered to deny his religion. He refused to, and was sentenced to death by flagellation.
The “Roman Martyrology” reports that Sebastian’s last words to his “friend” and sovereign were, “Diocletian, I have never stopped praying Christ in the heavens for your safety and for the prosperity of the empire. But I have always worshipped Him, and chose him over your gods of stone and metal”.
Gabriele D’Annunzio, in his five-act mystery play “The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastien”, with music by Claude Debussy, has the choir of the Apostles welcoming the martyr’s soul in Heaven sing, “You are a saint. / Those who call you / will see the Son of man, / those who hold you in their heart / will smile at your grace”.