Musicus Online Museum

Motet for St. Sebastian: O beate Sebastiane

Motet for St. Sebastian: O beate Sebastiane (Gaspar van Weerbeke)


Gaspar van Weerbeke composed this motet to St. Sebastian in the late fifteenth century. Born in eastern Flanders around 1445, Weerbeke had a highly itinerant career, typical of the leading composers of his day. He worked at the Sforza ducal court in Milan in the 1470s. In the 1480s, he sang in Rome in the papal choir of both Sixtus IV and Innocent VIII. He found employment again in Milan in the early 1490s, and then with the court chapel of Philip the Fair, Archduke of Austria and Duke of Burgundy, and the collegiate chapel of St. Donatian in Bruges. By 1500, Weerbeke had returned to Rome as a papal singer, where he remained for the rest of his career.

St. Sebastian was frequently invoked for protection against plague in medieval and Renaissance Europe. According to the saint’s legend, Sebastian was a third-century officer of the imperial guard of the Roman emperor Diocletian, who was martyred for his faith. His association with the plague was established through a posthumous miracle (c. 680 CE), in which Pavia (and the region of Lombardy) were freed from the plague following prayers to Sebastian. This miracle is cited in the text of Weerbeke’s motet; the reference to Lombardy may also indicate that the motet was composed during one of his periods of employment in Milan.

O beate Sebastiane, miles beatissime,

cuius precibus tota patria lombardie

fuit liberata pestifera peste.

O saint Sebastian, [you are the] most blessed soldierwhose gifts freed the entire land of Lombardy

from destructive plague.


Refers to this piece of MAG art: