Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Saint Oedipus?

St. Julian killing his parents.
Oil on panel, c.1488, by Antonio della Corna
Everyone knows the story of Oedipus. Not to be outdone, early Christianity has its own story of a similar patricidal tragedy. The popular 13th century Legenda Aurea ["Golden Legend"] of Jacobus de Voragine is the source of many saints' legends—sometimes the only source, and therefore suspect—and it is where we learn the story of St. Julian the Hospitaller.

At his birth (early in the first century CE), his father saw pagan witches lay a curse on his son that would cause him to kill his parents some day. His father realized that killing his son was the best plan to avoid his and his wife's own future demise, but the baby's mother would not allow it. Unfortunately, the boy Julian frequently saw his mother crying while he was growing up, and one day at the age of ten she told him why. Learning that his fate was to kill his parents, and swearing that he would never do so, he left home. After 50 days of walking, he had reached Galicia in northwest Spain. He eventually married.

Twenty years later, his parents decided to go looking for him. Arriving in Galicia, they visited the altar of St. James to pray. Coming out, they met a woman and asked her if she could take in a pair of travelers who had nowhere to stay. She agreed, and took them home. Explaining that her husband, Julian, was out hunting, they discovered that they had met their own daughter-in-law. Delighted to have found each other, she put them into her own bed to sleep.

In the words of the Legend,
And on the morn the wife of Julian went to the church, and her husband came home whiles she was at church, and entered into his chamber for to awake his wife. And he saw twain in his bed, and had weened that it had been a man that had lain with his wife, and slew them both with his sword, and after, went out and saw his wife coming from church.
Then he was much abashed and demanded of his wife who they were that lay in his bed, then she said that they were his father and his mother, which had long sought him, and she had laid them in his bed.
The horribly distraught Julian was comforted by his wife, who implored him to keep faith in God. To atone, Julian built several hospitals for the comfort of strangers.

He is the patron saint of hunters and of innkeepers. His feast day is 12 February.

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