St. Juliana

 

A depiction of the Virgin Martyrs from Baring-Gould's Lives of the Saints, 1895.

 

The legendary St. Juliana of Nicomedia was the daughter of Africanus, who was a pagan. She is said to have been martyred in the third of fourth century AD for defying her father's wishes that she marry Senator Eleusius, also a non-Christian. She had converted to Christianity at a young age and considering herself a bride of Christ, she refused to relinquish her virginity. She suffered many tortures under both her father and her betrothed, and was imprisoned for a time in the interim. While in prison she was apparently visited by the devil, disguised as an angel, who attempted to convince her that it was the will of God that she marry Eleusius. Suspecting trickery, she prayed for her visitor's true identity to be revealed and when it was she viscously attacked him. According to one medieval poet's account:

She crosses herself,
Goes toward the devil,
Throws the iron collar around his neck,
And chains him up.
He does not like this at all.
He begins to shout,
To jump, and to fight back,
Thinking that he can escape
And destroy the cell in this way.
To no avail,
For the maiden holds him tight.
(Cazelles 209)

The poet goes on to describe how she elicits from the devil his modes of tempting people to do evil and then exposes him to the public, converting all the pagans who witness her strength. Subsequently, in her iconography she is often depicted as endeavoring to bind a winged devil with chains or rope. After enduring further tortures of flames and boiling metals without pain, she was finally beheaded. Her name has been invoked against fever, plague, and the perils of childbirth. Her feast day is celebrated on February 16.

 

The historical figure of St. Juliana was born in 1270 in Florence, Italy, to the Falconieri family who was already well known for a famous religious figure, St. Alexis. He was a founder of the Servite order, Juliana's uncle, and her spiritual teacher. At an early age she was devoted to prayer and good works, becoming a sister in the Servite order during her adolescence after battling with her family to avoid marriage in a manner far more successful than that of the earlier Juliana. She had been born as an answer to a childless couple's prayers, making them more willing to allow her to repay that act in service. She was a zealous clergy woman who gained considerable recognition for her commitment to charity works and the sacraments, especially that of communion. She lived as a nun in her childhood house until her mother's death in 1305, at which time she helped to found the first convent of the Third Order of Servites, where she would later become prioress. On her death bed in 1341 she was plagued with stomach problems that prohibited her from taking communion so the host was laid on her breast. According to the accounts of those present, "Scarcely had the Host touched her loving heart that it was lost sight of and never more was found. Then Juliana, when the Host had disappeared, with a tender and joyous face, as if she were in rapt ecstasy, died in the kiss of her Lord" (Butler 582). The tale of the miracle further attests that after death her body bore the mark of the cross from the host. St. Juliana Falconieri is celebrated with the image of the Host upon her breast, and by her feast day on June 19.

Bibliographic Sources:

Butler, Alban (1711-1773), Butler's Lives of the Saints, ed. Herbert J. Thurston and Donald Attwater. (Westminster: Christian Classics, 1981) 581-583.

The Catholic Encyclopedia Online, click here for information on some more St. Juliana's and other Saints.

Cazelles, Brigitte, The Lady as Saint: A Collection of French Hagiographic Romances of the Thirteenth Century. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991) 204-215.


Or better yet, visit some sites dedicated to Lady Julian of Norwich, sometimes called Juliana, a well-known fourteenth century mystical writer and anchorite who has never achieved Sainthood, but whose religious writings are profound and revolutionary, nonetheless. She is considered to be the first known female writer in English.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This page was created by Julian O'Reilley (joreille@haverford.edu) on 11/5/98.