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The Life of St. Julian the Hospitaller: Introduction


1 The most recent discussion of the origins and development of the legend is in Bart and Cook, The Legendary Sources of Flaubert's Saint Julian, passim. Also useful is Swan, The Old French Prose Legend of Saint Julian the Hospitaller, pp. 1-19. For a comprehensive study of every aspect of the legend's development, de Gaiffier, "La légende de S. Julien l'Hospitalier," is still invaluable.

2 The following numbers in Thompson, Motif-Index of Folk-Literature, are relevant: M343, "parricide prophecy"; N323, "parricide prophecy unwittingly fulfilled"; Q25, "reward for carrying Christ across a stream." See also analogous folktales listed by Aarne, The Types of the Folktale, under the headings "Oedipus" (931) and "St. Christopher and the Christ Child" (768). The prehistory of the legend in its most general form has been studied by Schwob, Spicilège, pp. 103-20. For a medieval German Oedipus legend, in which the theme is incest rather than parricide and the incestuous one is none other than Pope Gregory the Great, see Hartmann von Aue, Gregorius, the Good Sinner, trans. Buehne, and the version by Thomas Mann, The Holy Sinner.

3 That Flaubert saw the window in his native city of Rouen is certain. Teasing out his relationship to and use of the other source materials which he may have utilized for his highly imaginative transformation of the legend is less easy. It is known that he read his friend Langlois' account of the Julian window, as well as a French translation of LA, but there has been considerable disagreement as to whether he actually read (or was capable of reading) a manuscript of the thirteenth-century French prose life, which he may have come across during a visit to the Bibliothèque Nationale in 1875 at a time when he was having difficulty with the writing of his own Julian tale. The reader who is interested in this puzzle about the relationship of a great nineteenth-century novelist to the Middle Ages, as well as in the heated opinions of those who have tried to trace the path of his inspiration, may find a detailed and scholarly discussion in Bart and Cook, Legendary Sources, pp. 29-93. A recent English translation of Flaubert's Trois Contes is Three Tales, trans. Krailsheimer.

4 De Gaiffier, "Julien," pp. 191-200, gives a detailed listing and description of representations of St. Julian found in stained glass windows, paintings, miniatures, sculptures, and tapestries.

5 Sherry Reames comments that the sixteenth-century writers Vives and Cano, who attacked LA, "treat hagiography explicitly as a branch of historical writing, discussing its deficiencies in chapters devoted to the characteristics of unreliable historians" (The Legenda Aurea: A Reexamination of Its Paradoxical History, p. 51).

6 The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, p. 243.

7 De Gaiffier, "Julien," pp. 146-58.

8 De Gaiffier, "Julien," pp. 172-77. Julian is not listed in any of the medieval calendars printed by Wormald, ed., English Benedictine Kalendars after A.D. 1100.

9 Ancrene Wisse: Parts Six and Seven, ed. Shepherd, p. 32.

10 Roger of Wendover, Flowers of History, trans. Giles, 2.221.

11 Savage and Watson, trans., Anchoritic Spirituality: Ancrene Wisse and Associated Works, pp. 176-77. In the notes to his edition of parts six and seven of the Ancrene Wisse, Shepherd comments that no mention of these saints is made in the sermon by St. Bernard which is the main source for this segment of the Ancrene Wisse. De Gaiffier, "Julien," pp. 165-66, notes further that the two pilgrimage sites alluded to (Saint-Gilles in Provence and Santiago de Compostela) are precisely those mentioned in the French prose life of Julian.

12 Bart and Cook, Legendary Sources, pp. 7-15, hypothesize a scenario whereby the legend accumulated its various folktale elements in a series of stages. They make no attempt to persuade the reader that this is what actually happened, but their explanation is useful in a general way for understanding the mechanism for such a development.

13 For references to the Latin versions, see BHL 4551 and BHL NS 4550v. The most complete listing of manuscripts of the French prose life is in Swan, Legend, p. 115. It seems unlikely that the question of origins will ever be finally resolved. De Gaiffier thought he might have discovered, in a manuscript located in Bruges, a Latin text (BHL NS 4550v) deriving from a source anterior to the French prose life and he printed this text on pp. 200-19 of his article. According to Bart and Cook, Legendary Sources, p. 107, however, "this is probably just an expanded version of the earlier French verse life." While not definitive, Cook's discussion (pp. 8-9) offers the most thorough recent approach to and understanding of the complex issues involved:
It is reasonable to suspect that the lengthy and detailed Old French Prose Life, one of the principal versions, also had oral or written sources not known to us. Moreover, the Prose Life may possibly be older than the mid-thirteenth century date usually assumed for it. It is one of the very few prose legends in the vernacular to appear in isolation, outside of the collections of such Lives, or 'légendiers,' which date from approximately the middle of the century, and which normally represent groups of translations from existing Latin Lives. No such Latin life is known for Julian, which fact tends to support the notion that his Old French Life is an independent creation older than the légendiers, and thus, of course, probably older than Jacobus.
Cook also argues against the evolution earlier proposed by Eugène Vinaver, who assumed that the brief Latin epitomes came first. Vinaver's most interesting point, however, has less to do with answering the chicken-egg question than with folding the legend of Julian into his well-known and still insightful hypothesis regarding medieval romance. Arguing in favor of the significance of formal patterning and against an overly modern dependence on psychological interpretation, he says that "Julian's seemingly natural behaviour carries conviction only when it becomes part of a movement which by its own logic brings about the tragic end" (Vinaver, The Rise of Romance, p. 121).

14 For bibliographical references to the Middle English versions see MWME 2.597. On the SEL version, see also Görlach, Textual Tradition, pp. 140-41.

15 Compare ScL Prologue, line 35. For Metcalfe's arguments on the authorship question, see his edition, 1.xxv-xxxii.

16 See LA, chapter 30, ed. Maggioni, pp. 209-17 (trans. Ryan 1.126-30); for Julian Hospitaller in particular, see Maggioni, pp. 212-14 (trans. Ryan 1.127-28).

17 See the entries in Butler's Lives of the Saints for Julian of Le Mans (January 27; BHL 4543-50) and Julian of Brioude (August 28; BHL 4540-42), 1.183, 3.434. The Julian (brother of Julius) who destroyed temples and built churches in their stead is not listed in Butler's Lives (but see BHL 4557-58). De Voragine, who sometimes mentions sources, says nothing in this regard about any of the five Julians.

18 "It is amazing how fate works, as men may see here (i.e., in this case): a man can never escape the destiny that is fashioned for him." From the SEL St. Julian the Hospitaller, lines 51-52 (DM 1.34).

19 The reader is referred to the Introduction to the episode of St. Andrew and the Three Questions (I[b]) for additional comments on the ScL-poet's style, handling of sources, and Scots dialect, as well as information on the unique manuscript of the Legendary.

20 For bibliography and short biographical accounts of Julian the Apostate, the one certainly historical figure in this constellation of Julians, see New Catholic Encyclopedia, 8.47, and Berardino, ed., Encylopedia of the Early Church, 1.459-60.
The Legend

The earliest known allusions to Julian date to the late twelfth century and identify him simply as the patron of hospitality: travelers on a journey and far from home pray to him for a comfortable lodging. The expanded legend, further identifying Julian as a parricide, appears to have developed in France during the thirteenth century.1 The narrative turns on Julian's murder of his own parents, whom he mistakenly takes to be his wife in the arms of a lover. Like Oedipus, Julian in his youth hears this act prophesied and flees his homeland, but, like Oedipus also, his fate catches up with him. Settling in a distant region he prospers and marries, but his parents, wandering the world in search of him, happen by chance on Julian's castle and are welcomed by the wife in his absence. Knowing her husband would wish her to treat the couple with all due honor, she gives them her own bed, and from there events follow their predictably doomed course. As an act of lifelong penance Julian establishes a hospice near a dangerous river-crossing and helps travelers to cross safely. After many years Julian offers warmth and shelter to a leper who, it transpires, is an angelic messenger come to report on God's behalf that Julian's penance has been accepted.

In its most general form, the legend of Julian Hospitaller has many analogues. Similar motifs can be found in myths and legends of diverse origin: the parallel with Oedipus has already been noted; the Arabian Nights tells of a father's failed attempt to protect his son from a prophesied death; and Perrault's Sleeping Beauty hinges on a similarly fruitless parental effort, though with less fatal consequences. The river crossing, with a passenger who proves to be more than human, occurs in the legend of St. Christopher, where the child transported by the saint grows heavier and heavier, ultimately revealing himself as Christ. No other narrative, however, combines these motifs in the distinctive form in which they are found in the Julian legend, and perhaps the most important significance of the parallels adduced is to suggest their ancient and widespread popularity and, as a consequence, the likelihood that the origin of the Julian legend is more likely to be located in folktale than in history.2

The power and popularity of the legend are witnessed, inter alia, by the two great pictorial representations in the stained glass windows of the cathedrals at Chartres and Rouen, executed in the middle of the thirteenth century. The nineteenth-century novelist Gustave Flaubert, who saw the Rouen window, was inspired by the narrative embedded in its thirty panels to create his own fictional representation of Saint Julian, which he published in 1877 in the volume Trois Contes.3 The iconographic tradition, represented in paintings, miniatures, sculpture, and tapestry, as well as in stained glass, makes clear the legend's most memorable features. Julian himself is usually portrayed as a hunter with a sword at his side and a falcon in his hand, reminding the viewer that the prophecy of murder occurred during the course of a deer hunt. Of the two scenes most frequently depicted, the first shows Julian in the act of killing his parents and the second has him carrying the leper across the river to the hospice maintained by Julian and his wife.4

Historical Origins

The quest for an authentic historical basis for Julian the Hospitaller and his legend forms part of the great Bollandist project begun in the seventeenth century. Questions about the problem of historical truth in the lives of the saints had arisen as early as the Renaissance, in connection with de Voragine's LA, for instance,5 but beginning in the seventeenth century they took on a new meaning and urgency. The Bollandists, organized by the Jesuit Jean Bolland expressly for the purpose of studying and publishing the lives of saints, continued to honor the devotional impulse that had led to so much uniformity within hagiographical tradition, but the establishment of a critical hagiography became, for them, the single most important task - whence their dedicated attempt to sift out the authentic historical kernel from among different versions of a saint's life and to identify and sometimes discard those for which no such kernel could be found.

In 1643, the published record of their researches began to appear in the multi-volume series known as the Acta Sanctorum. The single entry for Julian, which appeared in the second of the two volumes devoted to January saints, is taken from the fifteenth-century chronicle of Antoninus of Florence (AS, Ian. 2.974). The apparently straightforward recording of this legend, however, belies the complicated later history of the Bollandists' frustrated attempts to find a factual basis for its main details. From the beginning, the problematic nature of the saint's origin was signaled by the lack of a traditional feast day and the difficulty of locating him securely in a definite country or time period. As David Hugh Farmer succinctly puts it, Julian "has no date, no country, no tomb."6 During the century following the publication of the January volume of Acta Sanctorum, and beginning especially with the efforts of two of Bolland's most famous disciples, Henschenius and Papebroch, the Bollandists engaged in a kind of heroic detective work which they hoped would lead them to the historical Julian. Clues in the form of a Latin manuscript assigning the legend to Provence led to a lengthy correspondence with local Provençal historians, but this did not yield in the end any solid evidence of an authentic localizing tradition. Various other trails, including the attempt to identify a relic in the cathedral at Macerata as the arm of Julian the Hospitaller, were initially pursued in a spirit of hope and excitement, only to conclude in similarly dead ends, and the Bollandists were finally forced to acknowledge that Julian's origins remained enveloped in obscurity.7 What the reader cannot help admiring in the account of these researches is the passionate desire of the Bollandists to find an authentic historical figure lying behind the legend, coupled with their painstaking commitment to a scholarship which would not in the end allow them to avoid the conclusion that such a figure did not exist. More recent investigation has only strengthened this conclusion: Julian's name is found in no martyrology (though some versions do provide him with a martyr's death) and, lacking any firm liturgical tie, his very moveable feast day, though officially designated by the Bollandists as January 29, is variably assigned to one of the many other Saint Julians with whom he is regularly confused: Julian of Brioude, Julian of Le Mans, Julian of Rimini, and the Egyptian couple, Julian and Basilissa.8

Regardless of his historicity or lack of it, the popular cult centered on Julian Hospitaller must have grown almost as quickly in England as in France. The earliest allusions identifying him simply as the patron of hospitality are widely attested in sources from both countries by the early thirteenth century. Geoffrey Shepherd speculates that his popularity in England was boosted by a confusion with St. Julian of Le Mans, celebrated in England in the twelfth century, probably because Henry II himself came from Le Mans.9 A few examples will suffice to indicate how familiar the name and reputation of Julian already were at this time. The early- thirteenth-century chronicle of Roger of Wendover (died 1236) alludes to Julian in his report of a vision vouchsafed in 1206 to the peasant Thurkill. The peasant, who has been guilty of not tithing correctly, is taken on a tour of Hell by a guide who first asks Thurkill to find lodging for him and then identifies himself as follows: "For I am Julian the Entertainer [Iulianus hospitator] and have been sent on your behalf to show you by divine means certain things that are hidden from men and women in the flesh. Proceed to your house and try to prepare yourself for a journey."10 Equally compelling is the allusion found in the famous early-thirteenth-century treatise for female recluses, the Ancrene Wisse. In the opening of Part VI, "On Penance," one category of the people chosen by God is described metaphorically in terms of good pilgrims:
[Although] they are in the world . . . [they] always have their hearts toward heaven, as indeed they ought to have. For other pilgrims go with much toil to seek the bones of a single saint, like St. James or St. Giles; but these pilgrims who go toward heaven, they go to become saints themselves, and to find God himself and all his holy saints living in joy, and they all live with him in gladness without end. Surely they find St. Julian's inn, which wayfarers search for so eagerly.11
The Gawain-poet and Chaucer attest to the saint's continuing popularity in fourteenth-century England. Sir Gawain, wandering alone in a wild country, glimpses the castle where he will find shelter, and gives thanks to "Jesus and Sayn Gilyan þat gentyle are boþe" (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, line 774). Chaucer portrays the hospitable Franklin as "Seint Julian . . . in his contree" (CT I[A]340), and the garrulous eagle exclaims in the The House of Fame (lines 1021-23), when he and Geoffrey, after their journey into space, come in sight of Fame's temple,
Now up the hed, for al ys wel;
Seynt Julyan, loo, bon hostel!
Se here the Hous of Fame, lo!
There is no way to ascertain precisely how or when this early tradition began to accumulate the details familiar to us in the parricide narrative. According to one hypothesis, the story may have developed, after the fact, as a means of explaining and providing motivation for a figure around whom a popular cult had earlier developed.12 Be that as it may, by the mid-thirteenth century the brief Latin epitomes of Bartholomew of Trent, Pierre de Natal, Vincent of Beauvais, and Jacobus de Voragine in Legenda aurea, while differing in some details, all present versions of the story in its now familiar form. The precise relationship between the Latin and French versions is particularly difficult to establish in this case. Ordinarily it is the Latin life of a saint that develops first and is subsequently epitomized in compendia like those by the authors named above as well as making its way into the vernacular in various forms. In this case, however, the earliest fully developed Latin vita was discovered to be a rather awkward translation of the earliest elaborated thirteenth-century French prose narrative that, it has been argued, may also predate the epitomized versions, suggesting further the legend's links with and possible origin in vernacular folk tradition.13

The Legend of Julian in ScL

Middle English adaptations of the Julian narrative include, in addition to the version printed here from the late-fourteenth-century ScL, those in the 1438 Gilte Legende, and Caxton's Golden Legend, all of which are based directly on the epitome in Jacobus de Voragine's Legenda aurea. An earlier ME version, however, that in SEL (discussed further below), seems to be independent of LA.14 Although most of the legends in ScL are translated from LA, and although the Julian chapter is no exception, the author cites his own curiosity about Julian Hospitaller as his motive for narrating this particular legend. That he knew of Julian as a model or type of hospitality, independent of any written source for the legend, is seen in his account of a travelers' custom familiar to him from the days of his youth (lines 7-22). In a brief autobiographical introduction, the poet describes himself as someone who, when young, traveled a great deal in the hope of gaining wisdom from "gud mene" (line 5). The many encounters he had with travelers who invoked St. Julian led him to wish both to learn more about the patron saint of hospitality and to distinguish among the different saints called by the same name. Although W. M. Metcalfe has argued plausibly against a single author for the collection, there is an interesting parallel between the Prologue of the Legendary, with its extensive description of the author's age and frailty, and his representation of himself here (lines 1-6) also as someone no longer young.15

The long chapter entitled simply "Julian" in Metcalfe's edition, comprising 780 verses, actually covers the lives of five Julians, one of whom, Julian the Apostate, is not a saint at all. LA has provided the ScL-poet with the primary source material as well as the ordering of all five lives. The first three follow the equivalent passages in LA closely, in terms both of the proportion of space devoted to each saint, and the details of the representation.16 The catalogue begins with Julian of Le Mans (identified by some with Simon the Leper) who, following the death of Christ, was ordained the first bishop of Le Mans by the apostles. We are told next of Julian of Brioude, martyred during the Diocletian persecutions, and then of another Julian who, along with his brother Julius, obtained permission from the emperor Theodosius to destroy pagan temples and replace them with churches.17

These first three accounts are very brief, while the next, Julian Hospitaller, is narrated at much greater length. Although Jacobus' version of this legend, in LA, is similarly much longer and more dramatic than the first three, in the ScL version the poet demonstrates the legend's imaginative appeal for him by making additional alterations. As will be seen in the notes, Julian's killing of his parents is, in comparison with the brief and rather laconic account in LA, considerably expanded both in detail and emotional intensity. Comparison with the SEL's approach at this point yields a conclusion similar to that proposed in the discussion of the episode of St. Andrew and the Three Questions (see the Introduction to I[b], above). For example, the SEL-poet editorializes freely, as in his comment immediately after Julian has slain his parents:
Wonderliche it farþ bi wate . as me may here iseo
Þe þing þat is a man yssape . he ne may neuere vleo18
He also takes a far less restrained approach to this scene than the ScL-poet, attributing to Julian an extraordinarily vituperative and colloquial outburst in which he calls his wife a whore, and her supposed companion both a "gering" ("crude fellow") and a "horling" (lines 46-47, 50). In contrast, the ScL-poet, while not excusing Julian's fault, never fails to represent both husband and wife with dignity as well as pathos.

While the ScL legend of Julian Hospitaller is clearly based on Jacobus' in LA, the poet includes certain narrative details not found in the Latin version. These details suggest, even if they do not conclusively prove, that the author had additional knowledge of the saint, gleaned from either oral tradition or a text related in some way to the French prose life. Detailed commentary on individual passages will be found in the notes to the text.19

Julian the Apostate, the well-known Roman emperor (r. 361-63) who rejected the Christianity officially promoted by his uncle Constantine I and the latter's son, Constantius II, makes up the final count of the five Julians. As with Julian the Hospitaller, ScL follows closely the details of LA's colorful and largely fictional account of the career of Julian the Apostate, but elaborates greatly in terms of dramatic dialogue.20 One wonders whether Jacobus' fascination with this sordid and distinctly non-saintly figure may have seemed odd or even somewhat inappropriate to the ScL author. Rather than omitting or abbreviating the LA's account, however, he justifies its inclusion by explaining at the outset that it is offered as an example of wickedness, with the aim of restraining others from behaving in a similar manner. Within the legend itself he provides more explicit moral judgments on the conduct of Julian and those surrounding him. A good example of this is the woman who brings her gold to Julian for safekeeping in three pots which she has covered with ash to conceal their contents. Whereas the LA account simply states all this as fact, ScL provides both motivation and judgment: Julian's subsequent theft of the gold is condemned, but ScL lets us understand that the woman's greed makes her partially responsible for her loss. In a final editorial addition, the poet notes drily that no one prays to Julian the Apostate and that no prayers on his behalf will avail. This then allows him to circle neatly back to the "good" Julians to whom one may pray and a final exhortation to the one who is clearly his personal favorite:
. . . namely to that Julyane,
That for gast has the angel tane,
That he for us mak sic prayere
That we may hafe gud herbry here
And syne in hevine herbryt be
Amen, Amen, par cheryté. (lines 775-80)

as a spirit; taken
good lodgings
in charity
Indexed in

IMEV 4028.


Cambridge, University Library MS Gg.2.6, fols. 169r and 171v-174v. [For the complete ScL chapter on the several Julians, see fols. 169r-178r.]

Previous editions

Horstmann. Barbour's Schottischen Nationaldichters Legendensammlung. 1.281 and 221-25.

Legends of the Saints in the Scottish Dialect of the Fourteenth Century. Ed. Metcalfe. 1.458- 59 and 464-72. [For the complete chapter in ScL, see 1.458-80.]

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