Saint Sebastian of Rio de Janeiro

four students inside saint sebastian cathedral in rio de janeiro.

Hello guys! Ready for another amazing A Dica do Dia? We’ll discuss a very important date for cariocas: January 20th, when we commemorate Saint Sebastian in Rio de Janeiro. Did you know that Rio used to be called Saint Sebastian of Rio de Janeiro? During the battle between France and Portugal in Rio de Janeiro, legend has it that Saint Sebastian was fighting with the Portuguese and not a single arrow hit him. From that moment on, Saint Sebastian became the patron saint of our well-known, Marvelous City. Did you know that he is the patron saint of Rio de Janeiro?

Who was Saint Sebastian?

First things first: who, actually, was St. Sebastian? Well, let’s learn a little bit more about this martyr.

It’s said that Saint Sebastian began as Sebastian, a man who lived to convert people to his God in Rome. During one of his trips to convert people, he supposedly converted a woman named Zoe, who had been mute for six years. Through her conversion, she regained her voice. This was the first time Sebastian became popular.

But times in Roman Empire were tough for religious people who didn’t believe in their Roman Gods. Sebastian had prudently concealed his faith, but in 286AD he was caught. He was ordered to be bound to a stake, after which archers would shoot arrows at him. When converted people decided to get his body for a proper burial, they discovered Sebastian alive. According to tradition, he was rescued and healed by Saint Irene.

Sebastian decided to face the emperor and talk to him about his cruelties against Christians. The emperor was impressed Sebastian was still alive, and gave orders for him to be seized and beaten to death with cudgels, after which his body would be thrown into the sewer. However, a converted named Lucina was able to privately remove the body and she buried it in a catacomb.

The History of Saint Sebastian of Rio de Janeiro

When the Portuguese explorers landed at Guanabara Bay, they thought they had reached the gorge of a gigantic river, Rio in Portuguese! Portuguese explorers arrived at Guanabara Bay in January 1502, and named the new city Rio de Janeiro (River of January). In 1555 Nicolas Durand de Villegagnon led the French troops to conquer the city, managing to turn it into a colony and renaming it “Henriville”, in honor of its king Henrique II.


Under the command of Estácio de Sá, the Portuguese fought for a decade to recover the territory; on March 1st 1565 they founded the city that we now know as Rio de Janeiro, at which time known as “São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro”. It was thus that, every January 20th, a procession of the figure of the saint takes place from the Church of the Capuchins in the Tijuca neighborhood to the Metropolitan Cathedral.

What Do People Do This Day?

four Portuguese students in front of saint sebastian church in rio de janeiro. headline: "nossos alunos adoram visitar aquela catedral!"

Saint Sebastian is a Christian saint and also the patron saint of the city of Rio de Janeiro. That is why, on January 20, the Cariocas celebrate his day.

In the historical account, Saint Sebastian was a soldier who enlisted in the Roman army in the year 283 AD. At the time, Rome kept Christian soldiers as prisoners, and Saint Sebastian often visited them. His quiet demeanor towards Christian prisoners made the Roman emperor judge him a traitor. He was condemned to death with arrows in his body.

The Cariocas devote the Day of Saint Sebastian to the procession of Saint Sebastian, that is, a parade in honor of the patron saint of the city, carrying his graceful statue on an altar. People go to the Catholic Church, where they participate in the Mass in the name of holy Saint Sebastian. Then, they walk towards their final destination, making prayers and asking for protection from him in relation to their lives.

The church in which the graceful statue of the patron saint of Rio de Janeiro is located is Catedral Metropolitana de São Sebastião no Rio de Janeiro. You can go visit it on the January 20th. Or, perhaps, you can go on another date on our Cathedral RioLIVE! when you come study Portuguese with us.

In your city, is there a holiday as important as this? Tell us in the comments below! See you in the next Dica!

An extra kiss from the Rio & Learn team!

Click in the links below to see more related Dicas
Holidays in Brazil
Carioca’s New Year
Festa Junina in Brazil
Lover’s Day

This post is also available in: English Português (Portuguese) Español (Spanish)

2 Responses

  1. It was in 1565, not 1965 that Estácio de Sá and company founded the city. In the same paragraph, it states that they FOUND the city. It should say FOUNDED.

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