The other day, I was looking up a fresco by Spinello, and my eye was caught by the painting of St. Julianus murdering his parents. I decided to dig a bit further, it’s an odd tale. Julianus the Murderer morphs into Julian the Hospitaller. To me, the painting is jarring, depicting Julianus as a saint while busy hacking his parents up, but apparently these things don’t bother religious people. His parents must have been very sound sleepers, too, they don’t look a bit disturbed.
According to de Varazze, on the night Julian was born, his father, a man of noble blood, saw pagan witches secretly lay a curse on the boy that would make him kill both his parents. His father wanted to get rid of the child, but his mother did not let him do so. As the boy grew into a handsome young man, his mother would often burst into tears because of the sin her son was destined to commit. When he finally found out the reason for her tears, he swore he “would never commit such a sin” and “with great belief in Christ went off full of courage” as far away from his parents as he could. Some versions say that it was his mother who told him at the age of 10, while others say it was a stag he met in the forest while hunting (a situation used in depicting St. Julian in statues and pictures). [Julian was of noble birth and while hunting one day, was reproached by a hart for hunting him and told that he would one day kill his mother and father.]
Everyone loves a tall tale, and this one seems happily tangled. The story about the stag reproaching Julianus and predicting his future as a murderer strikes me as more than happily pagan in nature, and it probably should have stayed there, because as soon as you start twisting this about to be christian, it becomes a very ugly story indeed.
After fifty days of walking he finally reached Galicia where he married a “good woman”, said to be a wealthy widow.
There’s good luck for you, and a damn fast move, too. ETA: yet another hallmark of christian tales, the wealthy, good woman isn’t deserving of a recorded name. Just window-dressing. She’s the only one in the story who doesn’t do something evil, but the murderer gets to be a saint. Aaand, she doesn’t even get a face in the creepy painting.
Twenty years later, his parents decided to go look for their now thirty-year-old son. When they arrived, they visited the altar of St. James, and “as soon as they came out of the church they met a woman sitting on a chair outside, whom the pilgrims greeted and asked, for Jesus’ love, whether she would host them for the night as they were tired.” She let them in and told them that her husband, Julian, was out hunting. (This is why he is also known as the patron of hunters.) The mother and father were overjoyed to have found their son, as was Julian’s wife. “She took care of them well and had them rest in her and Julian’s bed.” But the enemy went off seeking Julian and told him: ‘I have sour news for you. While you are here, hunting, your wife is in bed embracing another man. There they are right now, still sleeping.'”
The enemy. Right. I guess we all get to assume this would be Lucifer. Or maybe a lesser demon. Might have been a nasty gossip at the local. Who the fuck knows? Now, if it had been me, I would have wanted to check things out for myself, but it seems Julianus was a rather gullible man, who simply swallowed whatever someone said, with little thought involved.
De Verazze continues: “And Julian felt deep sadness and his face drew into a frown. He rode back home, went to his bed and found a man and a woman sleeping in it. He drew his sword and killed them both. He was about to take off and never again set foot in that land, but as he was leaving he saw his wife sitting among the other women. She told him: ‘There are your mother and father resting in your room.’ And so Julian knew, and fell into a rage. ‘The shrewd enemy lied to me when he said my wife was betraying me’, and while kissing their wounds he cried ‘Better had I never been born, for I am cursed in soul and body.’ And his good wife comforted him and said ‘Have faith in Christ Almighty, a stream of life and mercy.’ They had no children… Gold and silver they had a lot… And after seeking redemption in Rome, Julian built seven hospitals and twenty-five houses. And the poor started flowing to him, to Jesus’ Almighty’s love.”
Apparently, Julianus didn’t even bother to use his eyes before he set to murdering, and was quite the coward, to boot, ready to run away. There was no sense of offense, or self-righteousness on Julianus’s part, no passion, he acted more like a simpleton carrying out instructions, and after the murders, a sense of shame and self-preservation landed. “The shrewd enemy”! Oh my. Julianus wasn’t on the smart side at all, how long does it take to check out a couple of sleeping people, or to go find your spouse? Then this whole fucking thing goes south, with the ‘faith in Christ’ business.
Oh, it’s fine, so you murdered your parents, not to worry, let’s go build some hospitals. To end the tale, Jesus shows for the icing on the cake, and the reappearance of that oh so shrewd “enemy”:
De Verazze continues: “The enemy conspired again to ruin Julian—disguised as a weak pilgrim, he was let in by Julian with the others. At midnight he woke up and made a mess of the house.” The following morning Julian saw the damage and swore never to let in anyone else in his home. He was so furious he had everyone leave. “And Jesus went to him, again as a pilgrim, seeking rest. He asked humbly, in the name of God, for shelter. But Julian answered with contempt: ‘I shall not let you in. Go away, for the other night I had my home so vandalized that I shall never let you in.’ And Christ told him ‘Hold my walking-stick, please.’ Julian, embarrassed, went to take the stick, and it stuck to his hands. And Julian recognized him at once and said ‘He tricked me, the enemy who does not want me to be your faithful servant. But I shall embrace you, I do not care about him; and for your love I shall give shelter to whoever needs.’ He knelt and Jesus forgave him, and Julian asked, full of repentance, forgiveness for his wife and parents. Some versions skip the second mistake and tell of an angel visiting Julian and announcing to him that he is forgiven.
Some versions of the story have Julianus giving up his bed to a leper, and surprise, the leper is Jesus! I had no idea that a sticky walking stick was an easy way to recognise Jesus. Early christians never could be bothered to come up with their own stories, they built off much older stories, and generally failed to do any editing, so you end up with very sticky messes like this one. The one thing which always does stand out is the complete lack of morality on the part of the players. Personally, I could never have forgiven Julianus for being such a gullible dumbfuck. Let’s see, how does one avoid murdering their parents? Seems easy to me, you just don’t commit murder, especially sneaking into bedrooms and stabbing people in their sleep.