Juliana of Nicomedia

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Saint Juliana of Nicomedia
Juliana of Nicomedia.jpg
Born ~286 AD
Died ~304 AD
Nicomedia or Naples
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodoxy
Feast February 16 (Roman Catholic Church); December 21 (Eastern Orthodox Church)
Attributes Represented in pictures with a winged devil whom she leads by a chain. She is also shown enduring various tortures or fighting a dragon.
Patronage sickness
Statue of St. Juliana in Jesuit church in Heidelberg, Germany

Saint Juliana of Nicomedia is said to have suffered Christian martyrdom during the Diocletian persecution in 304. She was popular in the Middle Ages, especially in the Netherlands, as the patron saint of sickness.

Historical background[edit]

Both the Latin and Greek Churches mention a holy martyr Juliana in their lists of saints. The oldest historical notice of her is found in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum for 16 February, her place of birth being given as Cumae in Campania ("In Campania Cumbas, natale Julianae").[1]

It is true that the reference is contained only in the single chief manuscript of the above-named martyrology (the Codex Epternacensis). It is nevertheless clear that the notice is certainly authentic, from a letter of Saint Gregory the Great, which testifies to the special veneration of Saint Juliana in the neighbourhood of Naples. A pious matron named Januaria built a church on one of her estates, for the consecration of which she desired relics (sanctuaria, that is to say, objects which had been brought into contact with the graves) of Saints Severinus[disambiguation needed] and Juliana. Gregory wrote to Fortunatus II, Bishop of Naples, telling him to accede to the wishes of Januaria.[1][2] Her life is listed in the BHG #963;[3] BHL##4522-4527 [4]

The legend[edit]

The Acts of Saint Juliana used by Bede in his "Martyrologium" are not at all legendary.[1] According to this account, Saint Juliana, daughter of an illustrious pagan named Africanus, was born in Nicomedia; and as a child was betrothed to the Senator Eleusius, one of the emperor's advisors. Her father was hostile to the Christians. Juliana secretly accepted holy baptism. When the time of her wedding approached, Juliana refused to be married. Her father urged her not to break her engagement, but when she refused to obey him, he handed her over to the Governor, her former fiancé. Elusius again asked Juliana to marry him, but she again refused.[5]

The holy Martyr Juliana was executed in the year 304,[5] during the persecution of Maximian. Juliana was beheaded after suffering torture. Another Christian named Barbara suffered the death of a martyr along with Juliana and was likewise sainted.

Soon after a noble lady, named Sephonia, came through Nicomedia and took the saint's body with her to Italy, and had it buried in Campania. Evidently it was this alleged translation that caused the martyred Juliana, honoured in Nicomedia, to be identified with the Saint Juliana of Cumae evidenced above, although they are quite distinct persons.

A more detailed biography-reference at martyrdom[edit]

Saint Juliana was the daughter of pagan parents, who were illustrious princes of Nicomedia when Diocletian ruled (286–305 A.D.). They betrothed her to a senator named Eleusius, who fell in love with her and was looking forward to their wedding. Juliana declined, as she wished to remain virginal. Assuming it was a girl's caprice, Eleusius sought the position of Roman governor of the capital of Bithynia. He had spent a lot of money and had his family and friends mediate for him at the court. In a fairly short amount of time he assumed the post and became governor of Nicomedia. He repeated then the marriage proposal to Juliana, but she revealed her faith to him. As a "bride of Christ", she said: "Unless you abandon the adoration of meaningless idols and you worship my Lord Christ I won't marry you, because it is impossible for our bodies to be unified if our hearts militate".

Juliana stayed constant to her decision although her parents pleaded with her. She was then arrested and taken to the court in front of the Roman governor, as a follower of the religion which was then under persecution. Her fiancé became her judge, torturer and executioner. He ordered people under his authority to remove her clothing and submit her to a series of tortures. First, she was flogged, then she was hanged by her hair and afterward it was pulled from her scalp. In prison, the devil approached her in the guise of an angel of God and advised her to agree to offer sacrifice to the pagan idols. Juliana saw through the deception, and struck out and spat on the devil. After this event she gained new powers to continue her fight. She was taken from jail and interrogated. Eleusius pleaded with her to marry him in order to get rid of the tortures and at the same time he promised her to allow her to worship her God freely. She remained constant. She was taken before a cauldron of molten lead. Juliana touched the cauldron and it tumbled over and the molten lead injured the guards. Many of the pagans who were present, 500 men and 130 women, were ready to convert to Christianity. They were beheaded on the spot on the governor’s order. Finally, Juliana was beheaded. She was 18 years old.[citation needed]

Alternate account[edit]

Juliana’s parents were pagans and they wanted to betroth her with Eleusius, a prominent officer from Antioch, but Juliana denied strongly. Her denial left her parents surprised because until then she had never opposed them and she was an obedient daughter. Eleusius' ego was sorely injured and he sought revenge. He made some queries and found out that Juliana had converted to Christianity, though her parents knew nothing about this. Eleusius impeached her before the Roman governor and as a result she was arrested and put in jail. While she was in prison, efforts to make her the wife of Eleusius continued, in order to save her from execution, but Juliana preferred to die rather than have a pagan as a husband. Then Eleusius after being ordered by the Roman governor and filled with hate flogged her in a ruthless way. After that, he burned her face with a heated iron and said at her, "Go now at the mirror to see your beauty". Juliana answered him with a light smile: "At the resurrection of the righteous, there won’t exist burnings and wounds but only the soul. So Eleusius, I prefer to have now the wounds of the body which are temporary, rather than the wounds of the soul which torture eternal." After a while, Juliana was beheaded. Eleusius was later eaten by a lion, when he was shipwrecked on an unknown island.

Later history[edit]

An icon depicting Saints Paraskevi of Iconium, Barbara and Juliana.

The veneration of Saint Juliana of Nicomedia became very widespread, especially in the Netherlands. She became known as the patron saint of sickness.

At the beginning of the 13th century her remains were transferred to Naples. The description of this translation by a contemporary writer is still extant. The feast of the saint is celebrated in the Latin Church on 16 February, in the Greek on 21 December.

Since her Acts describe the conflicts which she is said to have with the devil, she is represented in pictures with a winged devil whom she leads by a chain. She is also shown enduring various tortures or fighting a dragon.

St. Juliana is the subject of an Anglo-Saxon poem, believed to have been written by Cynewulf in the eighth century.[5]



  • Mombritius, Sanctuarium, II, fol. 41 v.-43 v.;
  • Acta SS., FEB., II, 808 sqq.;
  • J. P. Migne, P.G. CXIV, 1437–52;
  • Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina, I, 670 sq.; Bibl. hagiogr. graeca (2nd. ed.), 134;
  • Nilles, Kalendarium manuale, I (2nd ed., Innsbruck, 1896), 359;
  • Mazocchi, In vetus S. Neapolitanae ecclesiae Kalendarum commentarius, I (Naples, 1744), 556-9;
  • Oswald Cockayne, St. Juliana (London, 1872)
  • Vita di S. Giuliana (Novara, 1889);
  • Oskar Backhaus, Ueber die Quelle der mittelenglischen Legende der hl. Juliana und ihr Verhaltnis zu Cynewulfs Juliana (Halle, 1899).

External links[edit]