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E05394: Ambrose of Milan, writing in Latin in Milan (northern Italy) in 388/9, refers to the martyrdom and feast day of *Sebastianus (martyr of Rome, S00040) in a sermon on Psalm 118 (119), and claims he was Milanese by birth.

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posted on 2018-05-01, 00:00 authored by frances
Ambrose of Milan, Commentary on Psalm 118 (119), 20.44

Ambrose refers to Sebastian and his feast day in a commentary on Ps 118.157: Many are they that persecute and afflict me; I have not swerved from your testimonies.

Utamur exemplo Sebastiani martyris, cuius hodie natalis est. hic Mediolanensis oriundo est. fortasse aut iam discesserat persecutor aut adhuc non uenerat in haec partium aut mitior erat. aduertit hic aut nullum esse aut tepere certamen. Romam profectus est, ubi propter fidei studium persecutiones acerbae feruebant; ibi passus est, hoc est ibi coronatus. itaque illic, quo hospes aduenit, domicilium inmortalitatis perpetuae conlocauit. si unus persecutor fuisset, coronatus hic martyr utique non fuisset.

‘Let us take as an example the martyr Sebastian, whose feast is today. He was born in Milan. The persecutor had perhaps either gone away or not yet arrived in those parts, or was somewhat lenient. Sebastian realises that either there is no persecution or it is dying down. He set out for Rome where, on account of the zeal there for the faith, a bitter persecution was raging. There he was martyred, that is to say, received his crown. The city where he arrived as a stranger he made for ever the place where he gained eternal life. If there had been only one persecutor, this martyr would never have been crowned.’

Ambrose continues to discuss the virtues of martyrdom.

Text: Petschenig 1913. Translation: Ní Riain 1998, lightly adapted.
Summary: Frances Trzeciak.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Sebastianus, martyr of Rome : S00400

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Sermons/Homilies


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Italy north of Rome with Corsica and Sardinia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Milan Sardinia Sardinia Sardegna Sardinia

Major author/Major anonymous work

Ambrose of Milan

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops


This is the twentieth sermon preached by Ambrose of Milan (ob. 397) on Psalm 117 (118) before his congregation in Milan. It is part of a collection of twenty-two sermons which were most likely preached in late 388 and early 389 on Sundays and - in the case of this sermon - on lesser feast days.


In this passage, Ambrose attempts to claim a Milanese heritage for Sebastian. This can be compared with other cases in which Ambrose associated other martyrs with Milan, for example *Nabor and Felix (soldiers and martyrs, buried in Milan, S00609) and *Victor ('Maurus'/the Moor, soldier and martyr of Milan, S00312) (E05214) or *Gervasius and Protasius (S00313) (E05211).


Edition: Petschenig, M., Sancto Ambrosii opera pars quinta: Expostio Psalmi CXVIII (Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 62; Vienna, 1913). Translation: Ní Riain, Í., Homilies of Saint Ambrose on Psalm 118 (119) (Dublin, 1998). Further Reading: McLynn, N., Ambrose of Milan: Church and Court in a Christian Capital (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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