Saint Julian the hospitaller
Saint Julian, from a fresco by Domenico Ghirlandaio
Died ~7 AD?
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Feast February 12
Attributes Carrying a leper through a river; ferryman; hart; holding an oar; man listening to a talking stag; oar; stag; with Jesus and Saint Martha as patrons of travelers; young hunter with a stag; young man killing his parents in bed; young man wearing a fur-lined cloak, sword, and gloves; young, well-dressed man holding a hawk on his finger
Patronage Boatmen, carnival workers, childless people, circus workers, clowns, ferrymen, fiddlers, fiddle players, hospitallers, hotel-keepers, hunters, innkeepers, jugglers, knights, murderers, pilgrims, shepherds, to obtain lodging while traveling, travelers, wandering musicians, St. Julian's; Macerata

Julian the Hospitaller, also known as Julian the Poor, was a legendary Roman Catholic saint. His story is today believed by scholars to be fully legendary.


There are three main theories of his origin:

  • Born in Le Mans, France, possibly from confusion with Saint Julian of Le Mans
  • Born in Ath, Belgium around 7 AD (The Belgian flag is sported around the town during, and not only, the two feasts)
  • Born in Naples, Italy

The location of the hospitals built by him is also debated between:

The legend most probably originated in the Middle Ages, either in France or in Belgium. As it swelled to the rest of Europe, imaginative colors were given to it, thus making it impossible to trace to the original story. Together with Archangel Saint Raphael and Saint Christopher, he was known as the patron of travellers, as well as of the cities of Gand and Macerata. The Paternoster (Our Father prayer) of St. Julian can be found as early as 1353 in Boccaccio's Decameron, and is still passed on by word of mouth throughout some places in Italy. The legend also inspired the 13th century poem Leggenda Aurea of Genoan Giacomo da Varazze, a Dominican priest, also found in the Malta National Library. Beautiful stained glass depicting St. Julian by an unknown artist in the Cathedral of Chartres also dates back to the 13th century. Early fresco paintings of him are found in the Cathedral of Trento (14th century) and the Palazzo Comunale di Assisi.

The legend

Saint Julian Taddeo Gaddi

Saint Julian. Taddeo Gaddi, 14th century.

According to the legend, the night Julian was born, his father, a man of noble blood, saw pagan witches secretly jinx his son into killing 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 regularly fall into tears because of the sin her son was destined to commit. When he finally found out why she would cry at him, he swore he "would never do such a sin" and "with great belief in Christ went off full of courage" as far away as could be from his parents. Versions say it was his mother who told him at the tender 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). After fifty days of walking he finally reached Galicia where he married a "good woman", said to be a wealthy widow.

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 did Julian's wife. "She took care of them well and had them rest in the bed of Julian and hers". 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.'"

Legend 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 to take off and never step foot on that land, but as he was leaving he saw his wife sitting around the other women. She told him: 'There are your mother and father resting in your room'. And so Julian knew, and fell in rage. 'The shrewd enemy lied to me when he said my wife was betraying me', and while kissing their wounds he uttered 'Better had I never been born, for in soul and body I am cursed.' 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."

Quattrino Macerata

Quattrino of Macerata depicting Saint Julian

This is maybe where most of the story-telling ends, but the legend 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 me the 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 redemption, forgiveness for his wife and parents. Some versions skip the second mistake and tell of an angel visiting Julian announcing him forgiven.

Analysis of legend

St-Julien Chapelle statue 0707

Statue of Saint Julian in the church of Saint-Julien (Puy-de-Dôme, France).

The resemblance to the Greek mythology and Freud's Oedipus Complex theory is evident. While the story of St. Julian is most probably complete legend, devotion to him is both very old and very wide. One must also note that the term legend should here be understood in its Medieval connotation, meaning reading material of traditional origin, a mix of history and imagination. The written stories read out loud during the rites of the early Church were also called legends.

Veneration in Malta

Devotion to St. Julian started in the Maltese Islands in the 15th century after the discovery of his relics in the city of Macerata. It was introduced by the noble family of De Astis, high-ranking in Malta at the time, who had strong connections with the Bishop of Macerata. Three churches were built in his honor before the arrival of the Knights: in Tabija, towards Mdina; in Luqa; and in Senglea (Isla). This last one had a storage room for hunters, and served to popularize this devotion through the sailors arriving at the Three Cities. In the 16th century there existed a hospital, Ospedale di San Giuliano, in the Citadel in Gozo, showing a wide devotion to the saint. Being an order of hospitaliers, the Knights of St. John helped widen further this devotion. In 1539 they rebuilt the church in Senglea and in 1590 built another church in the parish of Birkirkara, a section that since then was called St. Julian's. In 1891 the church was made a parish, the only one ever dedicated to the saint in Malta.


  • MUSEUM St. Julian's. Translated from Maltese with permission.

See also

Julian the Hospitaller in literature

  • Gustave Flaubert wrote a short story entitled "The Legend of St. Julian the Hospitaller", included in his Three Tales.
  • Walter Wangerin, Jr. wrote a novel, classified as historical fiction, titled "Saint Julian."
  • One of the tales in Giovanni Bocaccio's Decameron is named The miracle of St. Julian, and is about a faithful devoté of St. Julian whose faith is put to test during a travel.


External links

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