Julius and Aaron

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Saints Aaron and Julius
Aerial view of Caerleon Roman amphitheatre.jpg
The Roman amphitheatre at Caerleon where Julius and Aaron were said to be martyred.
Died ca. 304 AD
Caerleon, Britain, Roman Empire
Honoured in
Eastern Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Church
Feast 1 July (trad.[1])
22 June (Cath.[2])
20 June (Cath.[3] & Ang.[4])

Saints Aaron and Julius (or Julian) are two British saints who are traditionally held to have been martyred at Caerleon, Wales, during the Diocletianic Persecution of Christians in AD 304. Along with Saint Alban and Amphibalus, they are the only named martyrs from Roman Britain. Their feast day was traditionally celebrated on July 1[1] but is now observed together with St Alban on June 20 by both the Anglican and Catholic churches.[3][4]

Surviving Sources[edit]

Little can actually be known about Julius and Aaron, as there is so little information about them in primary sources. The main textual sources for St. Aaron and St. Julius are Gildas and Bede, though we have few details concerning their story from either source. Gildas' De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae is the first surviving source to mention them,[5] and he writes that during the Diocletian persecution, "God... kindled up among us bright luminaries of holy martyrs...Such were St. Alban of Verulam, Aaron and Julius, citizens of the city of legions and the rest, of both sexes, who in different places stood their ground in the Christian contest."[6] Bede, drawing on Gildas, says in the Ecclesiastical History of the English People that in the same persecution during which St. Alban was martyred, so "suffered Aaron and Julius, citizens of Caerleon, and many others of both sexes throughout the land. After they had endured many horrible physical tortures, death brought an end to their struggles."[7]

The 12th-century Book of Llandaf also mentions a church (Merthir Iún et Aaron) dedicated to the cult of two martyrs.[1]

Medieval Hagiography[edit]

By the high middle ages, the hagiography of Julius and Aaron had been significantly elaborated. In his Description of Wales, Giraldus Cambrensis explains that Caerleon was native home of Amphibalus, teacher to St. Alban. Other legends say that Julius and Aaron were Roman soldiers, and that after the martyrdom of St. Alban, Amphibalus returned to Caerleon where he converted Julius and Aaron, among others, before their persecution and death in the Roman amphitheater at Caerleon.

Aaron (due to his Biblical name) was believed to be a Briton, while Julius, with his Roman name, was believed to be a Roman soldier.

Medieval Cult Sites[edit]

By the high medieval times, three churches dedicated to Julius and Aaron existed in Caerleon. Of the three churches, the first was dedicated to Julius the Martyr and was graced with a choir of nuns. The second belonged to his associate Aaron, and ennobled with an order of canons. The third was the metropolitan of Wales, the seat of the Welsh bishop in ancient times.[8] The metropolitan see was relocated to Menevia (St Davids) by St. David, the patron saint of Wales, in 519. According to the 17th century historian Francis Godwin, who wrote the Early History of Religion (De praesulibus Angliae), each of the martyrs had a church named for them in the city of Caerleon. These chapels existed on the east and west sides of Caerleon, about two miles distant from each other. St. Julias' belonged to a nunnery, and St. Aaron to a monastery of canons.

The churches are thought to have been damaged by storms and age, and were finally fully destroyed under Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries in the 1500s. The ruins of the monastic chapel of St. Julius were completely destroyed in the 15th century when Sir George Herbert built a Manor on the site and gave the manor the name of “St Gillian’s” a corruption of “St Julian’s”. [9]

Location of Martyrdom Controversy[edit]

There is some evidence to suggest that the martyrdom may have occurred not in Caerleon but in Chester. When Gildas first mentions Julius and Aaron, he says that they were martyred in the "City of Legions," or legionum urbis. This could have referred to a number of legionary fortresses, including Chester and York, both of which carry this name in a number of sources.[5] Archaeological excavations at an amphitheater in Chester have uncovered a structure that may have been used for public executions in the Diocletian period, and the possible remains of an early medieval church that might be related to a Roman martyrdom site.[10]

However, several other factors may point to the traditional association with Caerleon: An eighth-century grant found in the Book of Llandaff describes the boundaries of "territorium sanctorum martirium julii et aaron," or "the territory of the martyred saints Julius and Aaron"[5] located near Caerleon. Two twelfth century charters reinforce the grant.[5] There is also evidence that Caerleon became a cult site for St. Julius and Aaron, which lasted to the high Middle Ages. The Book of Llandaff mentions a "Merthir Iun et Aaron," or "sanctified cemetery of Julius and Aaron" at Caerleon.[11] By 1200, there were at least three churches in Caerleon dedicated to them.

Modern Times[edit]

Caerleon Catholic Church

A Roman Catholic church dedicated to St Aaron, Julius, and David was built in Caerleon at the end of the 19th century as part of what is now the RC Archdiocese of Cardiff. The Anglican parish church of St. Julius and St. Aaron was established in the St Julians suburb of Newport in 1924.

SS Julius and Aaron Church, Newport

The 2004 edition of the Roman Martyrology recognizes the martyrs (under the Latin names Iúlius and Aarón) as being martyred after Alban during the persecution of Diocletian by the legionaries of Brittania Minor (i.e., Brittany), in a period during which many 'arrived at the glorious city [of heaven] after enduring painful tortures and severe flogging'.[2]

The Roman Martyrology indexes Aaron and Julius under 22 June, but since this is also the date when Saints John Fisher and Thomas More are celebrated, the current Roman Catholic liturgical calendar for Wales[3] commemorates them together with St Alban on 20 June.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Baring-Gould, Sabine & al. The Lives of the British Saints: The Saints of Wales and Cornwall and Such Irish Saints as Have Dedications in Britain, Vol. I, pp. 102 ff. Chas. Clark (London), 1908. Hosted at Archive.org. Accessed 18 Nov 2014.
  2. ^ a b Martyrologium Romanum, 2004, Vatican Press (Typis Vaticanis), page 349.
  3. ^ a b c National Calendar for Wales, accessed 6 February 2012
  4. ^ a b The Church in Wales. "The Book of Common Prayer for Use in the Church in Wales: The New Calendar and the Collects". 2003. Accessed 18 Nov 2014.
  5. ^ a b c d Garcia, Michael. "Saint Alban and the Cult of Saints in Late Antique Britain". www.academia.edu. Retrieved 29 September 2014. 
  6. ^ Gildas. "Wikisource". The Ruin of Britain. Retrieved 1 November 2013. 
  7. ^ Bede (1990). Ecclesiastical History of the English People. London, England: Penguin Books. p. 54. ISBN 978-0-14-044565-7. 
  8. ^ Cambrensis, Giraldus. "The Intenerary Through Wales, and the Description of Wales". archive.org. Everyman Library,. Retrieved 2 November 2013. 
  9. ^ Reeve, Basil. "Destruction and Decline". St Julius and Aaron Parish Church History and Guide. St. Julian's Parish Church. Retrieved 2 November 2013. 
  10. ^ Matthews, Keith (1 January 2003). "Chester’s amphitheatre after Rome: a centre of Christian worship?". Cheshire History. Retrieved 6 July 2014. 
  11. ^ Fleming, Robin (2011). Britain After Rome: The Fall and Rise 400 to 1070. London, England: Penguin Books. p. 122. ISBN 978-0-140-14823-7. 
  • David Hugh Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), 228.