St. Fabian and St. Sebastian have always been venerated together, and their names were coupled in the ancient martyrologies, as they are still in the Litany of Saints.
St. Fabian, a Roman, was as energetic as he was admired and respected. He was able to accomplish a great deal during his long pontificate. Escaping the persecution of Emperor Maximus Thrax, who had been assassinated, Fabian enjoyed peace in the Church under the reigns of succeeding emperors.
One of St. Fabian's first acts was to reorganize the clergy of Rome to better serve the increasing flock. He is also credited with beautifying and enlarging the cemeteries. He ordered paintings to adorn the vaults, and he erected a church above the cemetery of Calixtus.
The Church flourished under St. Fabian as a succession of emperors left the Christians to themselves. This peaceful time came to an abrupt end with the ascension of Emperor Decius. He was a cruel enemy and he decreed that all Christians were to deny Christ by openly worshipping pagan idols. The Church was to lose many followers, but more stood firm to suffer torture and even death. Certainly, one of the first was Pope Fabian. Arrested, he was thrown in prison and died at the hands of his brutal captors. He is buried in the cemetery of Calixtus.
The oldest historical account of St. Sebastian is found in a commentary on the psalms by St. Ambrose; the passage reads: "Allow me to propose to you the example of the holy martyr Sebastian. By birth he was a Milanese. Perhaps the persecutor of Christians had left Milan, or had not yet arrived, or had become momentarily more tolerant. Sebastian believed that here there was no opportunity for combat, or that it had already passed. So he went to Rome, the scene of bitter opposition arising from the Christians' zeal for the faith. There he suffered, there he gained the crown."
The Roman emperor Diocletian tried by every means to turn Sebastian from the faith of Christ. After all efforts had proven fruitless, he ordered him tied to a post and pierced with arrows. When everyone thought him dead, a devout woman named Irene arranged for his burial during the night; finding him still alive, she cared for him in her own house. After his recovery, he appeared again before Diocletian and boldly rebuked him for his wickedness. Enraged by the saint's sharp words, the emperor ordered him scourged until he expired. His body was thrown into a sewer.