Saint Sebastian has been called history’s first gay icon and the patron saint of homosexuals. His feast day is today (Jan. 20).
Sebastian was an early Christian martyr killed in 288 on orders from the Roman emperor Diocletian. He is the subject of countless artworks that show him being shot with arrows. Little is known about his love life, so his long-standing popularity with gay men is mostly based on the way he looks .
Starting in the Renaissance, Sebastian has been painted many times as a near-naked youth writing in a mixture of pleasure and pain. The homoeroticism is obvious.
Other blogs have already compiled the St. Sebastian masterpieces from art history, so I will simply post one example and refer readers to the best online collection of Sebastian art that I have found:
Saint Sebastian: The Homoerotic Patron of Gay Men (Artwork I Love Blog)
Saint Sebastian is a favorite subject of contemporary gay artist Tony De Carlo, whose work is at the top of this post. He began his ongoing Sebastian series in the 1980s in response to the AIDS crisis. It has grown to more than 40 pictures.
“I chose him because he was known as the Patron Protector Saint Against the Plague, as the Plague was sweeping Europe,” De Carlo said in an interview with the Jesus in Love Blog. “It wasn't until the year 2001 when I went into a Catholic store in New Mexico, picked up a pewter statue of Saint Sebastian, and saw a label on the bottom that said ‘Patron Saint of Homosexuals.’”
The historical Sebastian actually survived the arrow attack and was nursed back to health by Saint Irene of Rome, only to be “martyred twice” when the emperor executed him later.
Sebastian is also referenced frequently in the gay literary world. For example playwright Tennessee Williams named his martyred gay character Sebastian in “Suddenly, Last Summer,” and Oscar Wilde used Sebastian as his own alias after his release from prison.
Subjects of the Visual Arts: St. Sebastian (glbtq.com)
The Allure of St. Sebastian (Wild Reed)
Not Dead Yet: St Sebastian as Role Model (Queering the Church)
St. Sebastian (LGBT Catholic Handbook)
San Sebastián: Historia de icono gay primero (Santos Queer)
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Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts