St Fabian's story is one of the stranger episodes in the strange history of the Catholic Church. A farmer by trade, he happened to be in Rome following the death of Pope Anterus, when the process of electing a replacement was proving unusually intractable. The deadlock was eventually broken in novel fashion when the Holy Spirit took the form of a dove, flew over the waiting crowd and landed on Fabian's head. He was immediately declared Pope by popular acclaim, despite not actually being priest. Though Fabian proved a success in his unexpected role, trial by wildfowl was not adopted for future elections.
Little is known of Fabian's character, but was highly regarded by later authorities. He seems to have coped well with the responsibility that was thrust upon him, gaining a reputation as a peaceful and humble Pope, and facing his eventual martyrdom with courage.
For a man who had never had any ambition to lead the Christian world, Fabian proved surprisingly good at it. Under his papacy, the Church flourished, enjoying a brief but welcome hiatus between the waves of persecution enacted by Roman emperors.
Fabian was put to death by the Emperor Decius, but although it is known that this took place on January 20th, 250, no further details survive. Like many early Popes, he was buried in a complex of catacombs outside of Rome.
Although little is known for certain, it seems that Fabian had a flair for management that helped establish the Church as a functional organisation. He appointed a network of deacons to administer his edicts, and sent seven bishops to re-convert Gaul to Christianity.