medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
An older post, greatly revised:
Julian and Basilissa (d. betw. 303 and 313, supposedly). These saints are undocumented prior to the probably fifth-century origin of their clearly legendary Greek-language Passio (BHG 970), a combined Bios and Martyrion presenting them as saints of Antinoe in Egypt or, thanks to a widespread but probably false variant reading, Antioch on the Orontes (an error -- if that's what it is -- probably arising from a misread abbreviation but seemingly helped along by the early veneration at Antioch of another St. Julian, he of Anazarbus). The latter alternative also appears in the (pseudo-)Hieronymian Martyrology and was standard for at least much of their medieval Latin and Latin-derived construction.
In addition to being legendary this Passio is strangely bipartite: Basilissa dies in cap. 15 while Julian's travails go on for another forty-nine chapters. Julian is said to be a very well educated but ascetically inclined young man who secretly prefers to remain virginal. When his parents press him to marry he seeks divine advice and in a dream God commands him to comply, saying that through Julian Basilissa will remain a virgin and that in that state both will be accepted into Heaven. On their wedding night Julian persuades Basilissa to join him in maintaining a chaste union. A heavenly apparition confirms their choice. Once their parents have died the saints use their inheritances to found a monastery for men headed by Julian and one for women headed by Basilissa, both attracting vast numbers of people who chose to leave their families and to give their wealth to the poor. The Diocletianic persecution breaks out. Basilissa's nuns and Basilissa herself die in a way that is not made clear. Julian is arrested, acquires -- largely through conversion -- a varied roster of companions, and after many tortures suffers death by decapitation. One gains the impression of a typical, if somewhat lengthy narrative of heroic martyrdom onto which has been fused an edifying tale of upper-class self denial and abandonment of the world.
The earliest clearly datable testimonies to the veneration of these saints come from the sixth century and are for Basilissa alone: her portrait among the female saints on the earlier to mid-sixth-century triumphal arch mosaic in the Basilica Eufrasiana at Poreè and her mention in a similar context by the later sixth-century St. Venantius Fortunatus (_Carmina_, 8. 3. 35). Given that these occur in Latin-speaking contexts, there will by then already have been a translation of BHG 970 into that language, quite possibly the same one that underlies St. Aldhelm's seventh-century treatment of Julian and Basilissa in both the prose and the verse _De virginitate_ and also quite possibly the very faithful translation preserved among the readings for Epiphany in a lectionary written at Luxeuil in the late seventh or early eighth century (BHL 4529; significantly altered in later states of this text including the one used for the edition in the _Acta Sanctorum_). Here's a view of the beginning of the Passio as it appears there (Paris, BnF, ms Latin 9427, fol. 32v):
Several other versions of their Passio exist in Latin prose. Still in Latin, in the ninth century Audradus Modicus, a monk of St. Martin's at Tours, produced an 800-line verse Passio of Julian and his companions (BHL 4534) and in the tenth Flodoard of Reims wrote a verse Passio of Julian and Basilissa (BHL 4535) as part of his _De triumphis Christi Antiochae gestis_. The latter can be read here (it's not impossibly long):
In Old English there is Aelfric's later tenth-century _Passion of St. Julian and his Wife Basilissa_ (only partly preserved). Later versions exist in medieval Spanish, French, and German.
While saying that Julian suffered on 21. June (seemingly a confusion with J. of Anazarbus, also celebrated on that day), BHG 970 places his feast on the day of Epiphany (chapters 63 and 64, respectively). Similarly, the (pseudo-)Hieronymian Martyrology (variously dated but later sixth-century at the earliest) enters Julian and Basilissa under 6. January. The Latin Calendar of Sinai (before ca. 800; thought to reflect African liturgical practice) records their feast under 2. October. Florus of Lyon follows the (ps.-)HM in entering them under 6. January; the likewise earlier ninth-century Marble Calendar of Naples records their feast under 7. January. St. Ado of Vienne and Usuard of Saint-Germain enter them under 9. January. St. Rabanus Maurus has them under 13. January; Wandelbert of Prüm has them under 13. February. The Synaxary of Constantinople places them under 8. January and 21. June as well as under 5. July for the dedication of Julian's church in Constantinople. Prior to 2001 the Roman Martyrology followed Ado and Usuard in using 9. January for these saints. Now, in accordance with its preference in many cases for the earliest documented feast day, it commemorates them under 6. January.
Some medieval images of Julian and Basilissa:
a) Basilissa as depicted in the earlier to mid-sixth-century mosaics of the presbytery arch (carefully restored, 1890-1900) in the Basilica Eufrasiana at Poreè:
b) Julian, Basilissa, and Julian's companions Marcianilla and Cels(i)us as depicted in an eighth(?)-century fresco in Rome's basilica di San Paolo fuori le mura:
c) Scenes of Julian and Basilissa as depicted in an earlier fourteenth-century copy (ca. 1335) of the _Speculum historiale_ of Vincent of Beauvais in its French-language translation by Jean de Vignay (Paris, BnF, ms. Arsenal 5080, fols. 254r, 245v, 255r, 257r):
1) Julian's dream:
2) Basilissa agreeing to remain virginal in marriage:
3) Basilissa's visions of God and of her virgins before her death:
4) Julian with Cels(i)us and Marcianilla before judge Marcianus:
d) Scenes of Julian and Basilissa as depicted in a later fourteenth-century (ca. 1370-1380) copy of Vincent of Beauvais' _Speculum historiale_ in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay (Paris, BnF, ms. Nouvelle acquisition française 15941, fols. 107v, 109r):
1) Julian's dream:
2) Cels(i)us' vision:
e) Scenes of Julian and Basilissa as depicted in a later fifteenth-century (1463) copy of Vincent of Beauvais' _Speculum historiale_ in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay (Paris, BnF, ms. Français 51, fol. 77r, 79r, 80v):
1) Julian's dream, the marriage of Julian and Basilissa, and Julian's martyrdom:
2) The martyrdom of Julian's companions:
PS: Confusion among saints named Julian is as old as late antiquity. But the statement in the matter from Wikipedia reproduced by Matt (see below) that Julian and Basilissa converted their home into a hospital (thus leading to confusion with Julian the Hospitaler) is not supported by either BHG 970 or BHL 4529. It appears to be the work of the Revd. Alban Butler in the eighteenth century, whose account of Julian and Basilissa is partly vitiated by his foisting on them aspects of the figure of the then not-so-evidently-imaginary-as-now Julian the Hospitaler; see <http://tinyurl.com/o9kx386>).
On 01/09/15, Matt Heintzelman wrote:
> Forced by his family to marry, he agreed with his spouse, Basilissa, that they should both preserve their virginity, and further encouraged her to found a convent for women, of which she became the superior, while he himself gathered a large number of monks and undertook their direction. The two converted their home into a hospital which could house up to 1,000 people (thus, Julian is often confused with Julian the Hospitaller).
> Basilissa died a very holy death, but martyrdom was reserved for Julian under the Persecutions of Diocletian. (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_and_Basilissa)
> Matt H.
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