(documented 1445-1472 in Nuremberg)
The Martyrdom of St Sebastianc. 1472
Woodcut, hand-coloured, 255 x 182 mm
Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich
In the Middle Ages saints were venerated in the first place by the pilgrimages made in order to view their relics. The medieval worship of relics stimulated tourism, and the travellers brought back images as souvenirs of their journey. Images of saints were produced in every sort and size, and in order to meet the growing demand numerous impressions were made from the same wood-block.
Around 1472 the Nuremberg map-maker Hans Paur made a woodcut of St Sebastian, with two prayers at the bottom that reveal while the saint was so popular. The first reads: " O Blessed Sebastian, how great is thy faith. Pray for me, thy servant, to Our Lord Jesus Christ, that I may be spared the malady of the ravages of the plague. Pray for us, holy Sebastian, that we may be worthy of the vow to Our Lord." St Sebastian remarkable recovery from the wounds left by the arrows had made him a patron saint of those menaced by the plague. If one remembers that outbreaks of plague often wiped out more than half the population of a city, on can well imagine the intensity and frequency of prayers to the saint.
There is also a slightly different version of this woodcut, the only early impression of which is in the Guildhall Library in London. It is not clear which version of the two is the earliest.