Statue of St Sebastian, German, posibly 16th century.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Oak statue of St Sebastian, patron saint of archers and soldiers. Sebastian was an officer of the Imperial Roman army, and captain of the guard under the emperor Diocletian in 3rd century AD. During Diocletian's persecution of the Christians, Sebastian comforted Christian prisoners and used his position to convert soldiers and a governor to Christianity. Discovering his betrayal, Diocletian ordered Sebastian to be shot by archers. He survived, recovered, and returned to preach to Diocletian, who had him beaten to death. He died a martyr in Rome, c 288 AD. During the 14th century, people likened the random nature of infection by the plague, or 'Black Death', to being shot at by nature's archers, and prayed for Saint Sebastian's intervention.