The patron saint of athletes (and gays)

We’re all a big bundle of contradictions, don’t you think? Me most of all. For instance, I can’t stomach any sort of organized religion but I love churches. I like the drama of them. For me, walking into a church is like walking on to the set of a movie soundstage. Sure it’s all an illusion, but god it’s exciting.

All during lunch I’d snuck glances at San Sebastian’s colonial church with its bright white bell tower, topped with pale blue tiles, reaching dramatically up to touch the cerulean sky. Other than the bell tower, the church looked unremarkable; boxy with little ornamentation around the edges. But for me, it was like a Christmas present. The wrapping may have been simple but that didn’t mean there wasn’t something wonderful inside.

photos by David Lansing

photos by David Lansing

So after lunch, The Girls went shopping and I went to visit the church. What a treat. Rustic paintings of angels and saints, in bright colors, dangled from ropes along the walls where you’d normally find the stations of the cross.

The walls and ceiling were beautifully painted in various shades of blue and purple. Three elaborate chandeliers hung from the ceiling (god, I would have loved to have seen those lit up at night) and above the altar was an Italian-inspired mural of the town’s patron saint, San Sebastian. The artist, whoever it was, had obviously borrowed from a similar Medieval painting by Bartolomeo di Giovanni, retaining the pose (though tilting the head in the other direction) and the backdrop of an Italian town while losing the archers.

Bartolomeo di Giovanni painting of St. Sebastian

Bartolomeo di Giovanni painting of St. Sebastian

Saint Sebastian was an interesting guy. The story goes that he was a Roman soldier who converted to Christianity, thus pissing off the Emperor who then ordered him to be tied to a post and slain by arrows. But damnit if he didn’t survive. When the Emperor found out he said, Fine. This time I say we stone him. And that did the trick.

For some odd reason (or maybe it’s not so odd) he is the patron saint of both athletes and gays. Since he managed to survive some rather nasty treatment by the Romans, you can see why athletes venerate him. The gay thing is a little more perplexing. Unless it has something to do with the way artists like Giovanni and Moreau have depicted him. Which is to say, effeminate, buff and mostly naked. 

For some reason I’ve always associated St. Sebastian with Valentine’s Day. After all, St. Valentine, despite the reputation, doesn’t exactly look like a hottie. No matter what your sexual persuasion. Unless he qualifies as a geeky looking aesthete. But St. Sebastian definitely looks more interesting, don’t you think?

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