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3 - Historical Narratives and the Importance of Place in Masses for St. Sebastian

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 June 2021

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Summary

Illustrious martyr, glory of the soldiery, champion of Christ, born in the sight of God in order that he might avert for us God's anger. Martyr who piously poured out judgments so that the epidemic may not be harmful. In this fatherland and in others which request your help. Hear [your] praises. And with pious prayer may rewards be given. Quick, soldier, help us. Alleluya.

This is a Mass offertory for St. Sebastian found in Paris, Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal MS 204 (F-Pa 204), a fifteenth-century Parisian liturgical book for the Confraternity of the Bourgeois Archers. This organization comprised men of different trades, who resided in neighborhoods throughout the city but came together to function as the citizen's guard of Paris. It is personal and urgent in nature, calling upon the saint directly with the plea, “Quick, soldier, help us.” This prayer to St. Sebastian alludes to his power as a plague saint and healer, which is based on his ability to deflect the anger of God. It is not unlike the other laudatory texts discussed in chapters 1 and 2 that made references to a saint's healing ability, martyrdom, and miracles. St. Sebastian was one of the most revered plague saints in northern France, along with others counted among the fourteen holy helpers in this geographical area. The contents of this confraternity manuscript reveal St. Sebastian to be the most important figure of veneration for the archers, for the saint himself was shot with arrows in an attempted execution at the hands of the Roman emperor Diocletian. This is the only source in the present study that is devoted exclusively to plague saints, as it also contains masses for St. Roche, St. Anthony the Abbot, and St. Genevieve. In this chapter I explore how Parisian confraternities in the fifteenth century refashioned St. Sebastian into a local protector through textual and melodic references to historical persons and places—and in particular, places that held relics.

In addition to the text's allusion to healing, it has a notable reference to place through the line “In this fatherland and in others which request your help.”

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