Feast Day : January 20
Patronage: lead-founders; potters
Fabian was a farmer who happened to be in Rome when the election to replace Pope St. Anterus began. Several important persons were under consideration, when a dove suddenly appeared and alighted on his head. The dove recalled the settling of the Holy Spirit on Christ, as described in the Scriptures. It was taken as a sign, and although he was a complete unknown, Fabian received unanimous approval on the first ballot. During his 14-year reign, Emperor Philip was in power, and there was a lull in the persecution of Christians. Fabian was responsible for several important actions. He divided Rome into seven districts, each supervised by a deacon, and appointed seven subdeacons to collect the acta of the martyrs (that is, the proceedings of their trials). (A similar order had brought about the death of his predecessor.) He also made considerable improvements to the Catacombs of St. Callistus and had the body of Pope St. Pontian (r. 230–235) brought from Sardinia and interred there. He may also have sent St. Dionysius (Denis) and other preachers to Gaul, but this is uncertain. Fabian died a martyr on January 20, 250, when upon the death of Philip and the accession of Decius the persecutions began anew. Decius ordered all Christians to deny Christ by offering incense to idols or through some other pagan ritual; those who refused to obey were killed. Fabian’s body was interred in the Crypt of the Popes in the Catacomb of St. Callistus. Later some of his relics were translated to the Basilica of Saint Sebastian. In art, Fabian is shown with a dove by his side; with a tiara and a dove; with a sword or club; or kneeling at a block (about to be beheaded). Sometimes he is shown with St. Sebastian, who was martyred on his feast day, or with a palm and cross. Fabian’s image is included in a painting attributed to Diamante (ca. 1430–98) in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel.