One of the rewards, of the papacy during the first three centuries, anno Domini, was martyrdom. After the forty days of Anterus's episcopacy, Fabian became the new bishop of Rome, pope. His reign was fourteen years and began in 236. Both the initial and final moments of that span were notably dramatic.
Fabianus, who was wonderfully designated Bishop of Rome by God.The soldier emperor, Philip the Arab (Marcus Julius Philippus) was cæsar, a.D. 244-9 . During that time Rome celebrated its millennial year. Philip and his son were baptised by Fabian. Decius came from the gothic front to take Rome. Philip and his son were slain and Decius began the first empire wide persecution of the church. He began the martyring with Fabian. Decius struck at the head first. Many were martyred, many renounced the faith to avoid martyrdom.
1. Gordianus succeeded Maximinus as Roman emperor; and Pontianus, who had been bishop of the church at Rome for six years, was succeeded by Anteros. After he had held the office for a month, Fabianus succeeded him.
2. They say that Fabianus having come, after the death of Anteros, with others from the country, was staying at Rome, and that while there he was chosen to the office through a most wonderful manifestation of divine and heavenly grace.
3. For when all the brethren had assembled to select by vote him who should succeed to the episcopate of the church, several renowned and honorable men were in the minds of many, but Fabianus, although present, was in the mind of none. But they relate that suddenly a dove flying down lighted on his head, resembling the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Saviour in the form of a dove.
4. Thereupon all the people, as if moved by one Divine Spirit, with all eagerness and unanimity cried out that he was worthy, and without delay they took him and placed him upon the episcopal seat. — from Book vi. chapter 29 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History
A generation later, the Milanese, Sebastian became a captain of the Praetorian Guard during the rule of Diocletian and Maximian. This was not discovered, for a time, until he had encouraged imprisoned christians and made converts of others. Upon impeachment, Diocletian had him bound to a stake and executed by archers. Saint Irene came to gather his body, he was alive. Later, as the emperor passed by, he berated and declaimed the astonished Diocletian, whom had him executed by cudgels and his body thrown into the sewer on the 20th of January 287.
Sebastian's corpse was buried in the catacombs, and a church came to be built above his grave. In 862 his remains were translated, along with some of the relics of Gregory the Great to St. Medard's, at Soissons. In 1564, the protestants attacked that church and threw the bones of the three saints into a ditch, which later were recovered. Pagans and protestants shared the same contempt for the saints. Sebastian was twice martyred and twice dispatched into a waste channel.
Gerrit van Honthorst c. 1623; a tenebræist depiction of the martyrdom. London.