The Martyrdom of St Sebastian

St Sebastian illuminated manuscript

Book of Hours (Horae), St Sebastian, 1555, illuminated manuscript, Manuscripts Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library, Reference: MSR-07-f238v

The Martyrdom of St Sebastian

This miniature painting from a Book of Hours depicts the third-century Roman martyr, Saint Sebastian. According to legend, the Emperor Diocletian ordered him to be executed because of his Christian beliefs.

Saint Sebastian was shot with arrows and left for dead, but he eventually recovered and denounced the Emperor for his cruelty to Christians. The Emperor then had him clubbed to death.

A Book of Hours is a compendium of religious texts which were meant to be read at different hours of the day. Such books were very popular in well-to-do medieval households. Families who never owned another book might have a Book of Hours, often committing the various texts to memory.

This manuscript was presented to the Alexander Turnbull Library by Wellington businessman and philanthropist Sir John Ilott. A long-time patron of the Library, Ilott donated a number of rare books and illuminated manuscripts during the 1950s.

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