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 Post subject: St. Sebastian’s Church in Kandana
 Post Posted: Fri Jan 27, 2006 3:56 am 
St. Sebastian’s Church in Kandana
First shrine of St. Sebastian in Sri Lanka

by Commodore Shemal Fernando, RSP, USP, MSc
@ The Island


St. Sebastian’s Church in Kandana was consecrated as the first shrine dedicated to Saint Sebastian in Sri Lanka yesterday. Rev. Fr. Susith Silva, the Administrator of the shrine had finalized arrangements to conduct a befitting ceremony under the patronage of the Most. Rev. Dr. Oswald Gomis, the Archbishop of Colombo, preceding the Vespers to mark the historical occasion. As years roll by, it is envisaged that this shrine through which many favours have been received will be one of the biggest attractions for the Catholics in Sri Lanka.

In the liturgical calendar of the church, the feast of Saint Sebastian is celebrated on January 20th and this year our thoughts are particularly drawn to the hallowed shrine that nestles just a kilometer or so away from the hustle and bustle of Kandana town. The devotion of Catholics to this shrine, down the years has always been so fervent, that for generations they have not failed to celebrate the annual feast.

Saint Sebastian has been always honoured by the church as one of her most illustrious martyrs. He is indeed one of those popular Saints, whose intercession is sought by many. St. Sebastian is the ‘Patron Saint of Soldiers’, as he entered the Roman Army in order to defend the confessors and martyrs of his day and for his goodness and bravery. He is also the ‘Patron Saint of Athletes’, because of his physical endurance and his energetic way of spreading and defending the Faith.

St. Sebastian is the refuge of Catholics in times of sickness and pestilences and is considered the Saint unto whom the God has granted power over all diseases. Many countries stricken with plagues and other diseases had been protected through the intercession of St. Sebastian. We read in Paul the Deacon in what manner, in the year 680; Rome was freed from a raging pestilence by the patronage of this saint. Then Milan in 1575, Lisbon in 1599 and other places have experienced in like calamities the effects of his intercession with God on their behalf.

St. Sebastian is popularly known as the "Most sweet flower of Narbonne" and as the "Glory of the city of Milan". He lived as a glorious scion of a noble house and his exalted pattern of Christian virtues earned him many laurels. His pure soul was pleasing to kings whilst his intrepid valour pleased the God Almighty. His power to grant favours and work miracles is a well known fact all over the world. The name of St. Sebastian is invoked in almost every Catholic household with pious fervor and great confidence.


St. Sebastian, a Roman martyr, was born at Narbonne in Gaul but his parents were from Milan in Italy and he was brought up in that city. He was a fervent servant of Christ, and though his natural inclinations gave him an aversion to a military life, yet to be better able, without suspicion, to assist the confessors and martyrs in their sufferings, he went to Rome about the year 283 and entered the Army under the Emperor Carinus.

Emperor Diocletian named him Commander of the Praetorian Guard, unaware that he had become a Christian. As an officer in the Roman imperial he had secretly done many acts of love and charity for his brethren in the Faith. His devotion to duty, his courage and his efficiency earned for him the praise and esteem of all including the Emperor himself. St. Sebastian’s prudence merited him the rank of Captain in the Roman Emperor’s Guard and his zeal and success in the service of the church brought him the name of Captain in the Army of God.


He was well known for feeding the poor and strengthening the weak unto martyrdom. He found the twin brothers Marcus and Marcellianus in prison and when they were near yielding to the entreaties of their relatives, encouraged them to despise flesh and blood, and to die for Christ. He was also God’s instrument in conversion and cure of their crippled father, Tarquillinus. Zoe, the wife of Nicostratus, who lost the use of speech by palsy in her tongue, fell at his feet and spoke distinctly after he made the sign of the cross on her mouth. She with her husband Nicostratus, who was Master of the Rolls, the parents of Marcus and Marcellianus, the jailer Claudius, and sixteen other prisoners, were converted and Nicostratus, took the prisoners to his own house, where Polycarp, a holy priest, instructed and baptized them.

Chromatius, Governor of Rome, being informed of this, and that Tranquillinus, the father of Saints Marcus and Marcellianus had been cured of the gout by receiving baptism, desired to be instructed in the faith, being himself grievously affected with the same distemper. Accordingly, having sent for Sebastian, he was cured by him, and baptized with his son Tiburitius. St. Sebastian by healing the Governor Chromatius of paralysis didst turn his heart from his idols and went on to obtain freedom to the slaves of Chromatius and the light of faith to all his people.

God confirmed his words by miracle: light shone around him while he spoke; he cured the sick by his prayers; and in this divine strength he led multitudes to the faith. He saw his disciples die before him, and one of them came back from heaven to tell him that his own end was near. It was in a contest of fervour and charity that St. Sebastian found the occasion of martyrdom. The Prefect of Rome, after his conversion, retired to his estates in Campania and took a great number of his fellow-converts with him to this place of safety.

It was a contest of zeal, out of a mutual desire of martyrdom, between St. Sebastian and the priest Polycarp, which of them should accompany this troop, to complete their instruction, and which should remain in the city to encourage and assist the martyrs, which latter was the more dangerous province. St. Austin wished to see such contests of charity amongst the ministers of the church. Pope Caius, who was appealed to, judged it most proper that Sebastian should stay in Rome as a defender of the church.

In the year 286, the persecution growing hot, the Pope and others concealed themselves in the imperial palace, as a place of the greatest safety, in the apartments of one Castulus, a Christian officer of the court. St. Zoe was first apprehended, praying at St. Peter’s tomb. She was stifled with smoke, being hung by the heels over a fire. Tranquillinus, ashamed to be less courageous that a woman, went to pray at the tomb of St. Paul, and was seized by the populace and stoned to death. Nicostrauts, Claudius, Castorius and Victorinus were taken and after having been thrice tortured, were thrown into the sea. Tiburtius, betrayed by a false brother, was beheaded. Castulus, accused by the same wretch, was thrice put on the rack, and afterwards buried alive. Marcus and Marcellianus were nailed by the feet to a post and having remained in that torment 24 hours were shot to death by arrows.


St. Sebastian ever zealous for the spreading of the faith boldly preached Jesus Christ before the Emperor Diocletian. History reveals that when he was finally discovered to be a devout Christian in 286, he was handed over to the Mauritanian archers at the Emperor’s command. He was steadfast in the faith while the body being bound to a tree and was pierced with a shower of arrows and left to die. But God raised him up again. Irene, the widow of St. Castulus, going to bury him, found him still alive, and took to her lodgings, where by care she nursed Sebastian back to health, insisting he remain in hiding to seek safety elsewhere at the proper time.

St. Sebastian was very grateful but said that he was not accustomed to hiding, and on the occasion of a festive banquet held in the palace he strode into face the man who had supposed him long since dead. The incredulous Diocletian stood transfixed at the presumed sight of a dead man and was taken aback when the former guard berated the Emperor for his callous treatment of the Christians. Recovering from his stupor, Emperor Diocletian gave orders to beat him to death with cudgels and his body thrown into the common sewer. He crowned his labour by the merit of a double martyrdom in 288.

A pious lady, called Lucina, admonished by the martyr in a vision, got it privately removed, and buried it in the catacombs at the entrance of the cemetery of Calixtus. A church was afterwards built over his relics by Pope Damasus, which is one of the ancient stationary churches at Rome. Vandelbert, St. Ado, Eginard, Sigebert and other contemporary authors relate that, in the reign of Louis Debonnair, Pope Eugenius II gave the body of St. Sebastian to Hilduin, Abbot of St. Denys, who brought it into France, and it was deposited at St. Medard’s at Soissons, on the 8th of December in 826. A basilica in memory of St. Sebastian now stands by the Appian Way of Rome.


A Catholic shrine, the object of a pilgrimage, is God’s work. Divine ways are very different from human ways. To do something great, God chooses generally the weak and the ignorant of this world, who are apparently unfit. His work starts in small and insignificant way; the start is full of tears and bitter struggles. When it is on the verge of annihilation He interferes and makes His mighty arm manifest. And to the marvel!

The beginning of the shrine at Kandana is somewhat obscure. The story which had been handed down to us by tradition reveals that there existed a small chapel with a thatched roof around 1798 in a place called Uswatte. And it is said an unknown person set it on fire and destroyed the chapel and escaped. Thereafter, a permanent and substantial church had been constructed.

Some years later whilst discussions were on regarding identifying a saint for dedication of the church, a vendor from a distant place had brought a statue of a saint about 18 inches in height for sale. As the vendor was determined to fetch a good price for the statue, he had delayed the auction to the following day and had slept.

Surprisingly the businessman had disappeared by the following morning and only the statue had been there. The people of the area had moved this statue of St. Sebastian to the newly constructed church and dedicated the church to St. Sebastian. The small image now enshrined magnificently in the shrine is said to be the identical statue discovered in the manner narrated.

The church that stands today was constructed over a hundred years ago under the auspicious of Rev. Fr. Joachin Albaarthu, a missionary from Goa. And during that era the hamlets of Nagoda, Ragama, Tudella, Kaleliya, Wawela, Weligampitiya, Midellavita, Batagama, Dehiyagatha and Kanuwana too fell under the heroic missionaries who worked relentlessly for God and the salvation of souls.

The feast of St. Sebastian should remind every Catholic that St. Sebastian teach us that Jesus loves us individually and as we are. Like St. Sebastian, we, too, have a gift to give. Our gift might be to do acts of love and charity for our brethren but the important thing is to give our gift totally, like St. Sebastian did to the greater glory of God.

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