Sebastian is among those remarkable martyrs, brave men and women of faith, who have been canonized (declared a saint) by the Roman Catholic Church. Today he is venerated as the patron of soldiers and athletes, including archers. An officer of the Roman Praetorian Guard during the rule of Emperors Maximian and Diocletian, he was also a “secret Christian”, something which had it become known would have identified him as a “marked man”. During the time of his military service he was able to protect the lives of many Christians who would otherwise have been martyred. Inevitably, his Christian sympathies become known and his arrest and execution ordered. He was tied to a post set into the ground and used as a target by archers. Assumed dead, he was cut down and his body given into the keeping of a woman named Irene. Miraculously, she discovered that he was still alive, and though he was gravely injured, no arrow had done lethal damage. She nursed him back to health, and he was sufficiently recovered at a later date to publicly confront the emperor concerning the persecution of Christians. Once again he was ordered executed [288 AD], this time successfully. Irene was also canonized.
According to tradition, during the later years of the reign of King Robert I, “THE BRUCE” [d. 1329], a group of forty soldiers were recruited and trained as the king’s personal bodyguard and designated the “Forty Bowmen of Saint Sebastian”. (This name may have also been suggested in relation to a Strathleven location near the present village of Renton.) These were notable men who took responsibility for the safety of the king, and service to his name and family. They pledged their allegiance to the king and his family with their very lives.
Today, the “THE FORTY BOWMEN OF SAINT SEBASTIAN” has been revived in Scotland under the auspices of another group known as the “Strathleven Artizans”, (officially as the “King of Scots Robert the Bruce Society”) who are pledged to the service of The Name And Family Of Bruce and to the legacy of King Robert I. Sir Andrew Bruce, Earl of Elgin and Kincardine, Knight of the Thistle, and 37th hereditary chief of the Name And Family Of Bruce, is the patron of this organization. The Artizans achievements are many, including the construction of a replica of King Robert’s throne. The Bowmen are a select few individuals who through long and notable service to the Name And Family Of Bruce, and in anticipation of future service, have been honored in ceremony and gifted with a very unique mark of that honor. Rather than an elaborate and bejeweled medallion, the Bowmen wear a simple cut wooden heart hung around the neck with a leather thong. Not long ago, a huge old oak tree in Strathleven, on property once owned by King Robert, and which according to tradition was just a sapling during his lifetime, caught fire, the damage terminal. The Artizans preserved all of the salvageable wood from this tree and have executed a number of works of art, including parts of the replica throne, using this wood. The heart worn by today’s Bowmen is of this wood. It is a great honor for each of them to wear this heart over their own. It is reminiscent of the knights who pledged to carry the heart of King Robert on crusade to the Holy Land, at his own request, and as his death became imminent. Today’s Bowmen are pledged to emulate the life and legacy of King Robert, and to serve, protect, and proclaim the Name And Family Of Bruce.
William P. Bruce – February, 2017:
Note: This iteration of “THE BOWMEN OF SAINT SEBASTIAN” is not to be confused with the several Catholic orders and organizations related to Saint Sebastian.
A Further Note: FOBII members who are currently numbered among the Forty Bowmen include: Steven E. Bruce, Polly Bruce Tilford, Deborah Bruce Gottlieb, Thomas Allen Bruce, William P. Bruce, Richard Bruce. All of the others are Scots.