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Juliana of Liège

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Saint Juliana of Liège
Born 1193, Retinnes, Belgium
Died April 5, 1252, Fosses
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Canonized 1869 by Pius IX
Feast April 5

Saint Juliana of Liège (also called St. Juliana of Mt. Cornillon) (1193-1252) was a religious woman and visionary from Retinnes in the Bishopric of Liège, now in Belgium. She was known in her community for her "capacious memory," her gift of prophecy, and religious devotion. Traditional scholarly sources have long recognized her as the promotrice of the feast of Corpus Christi, first celebrated in Liège in 1246, and later adopted for the universal church in 1264. More recent scholarship includes manuscript analysis of the initial version of the office, as found in The Hague, National Library of the Netherlands, KB 70.E.4, and close reading of her Latin vita, which was recently published as a critical edition in French by Belgian scholar, Jean-Pierre Delville. The newer scholarly work notes the many references to her musical and liturgical performances. Especially recent women scholars recognize Juliana as the "author" of the initial version of the Latin office, Animarum cibus, which is titled by the incipit of its first antiphon. Clearly, she was among the leadership in one of the first women's movements, corroborated not least by evidence found in a group of Mosan (from the diocese of Liège) psalters for and by women, which circulated in the diocese during the tulmultous period in which the feast of Corpus Christi gained recognition.

Juliana's vita notes that she and her sister Agnes were orphaned at age five and placed in a newly founded hospice at Mont Cornillon, right outside of Liège. The two girls were initially placed on a small farm next to a new Premonstratensian monastery and worked for many years in its leprosarium. The monastery had four types of residents: males and females, sick and healthy, and benefited financially from Juliana and Agnes's endowment. In 1230 Juliana was named Prioress, although her order was not yet recognized by the Papacy. She thus serves as an exemplar of how individuals resolved the role and status problems for unmarried women living outside religious orders during the high medieval period. Her vita unfolds at precisely the time in which the curia decided against the recognition of any new orders, a time in which the existing orders were overflowing with widows and other women who decided against marriage.

As characteristic of Liège women, Juliana, from her early youth, had great veneration for the Eucharist and longed for a special feast in its honor. Her vision mobilized a tradition from the immediately preceding generation of Liège women, most notably Marie D'Oignes, also a singer, who was admired by none less than Saint Francis. Their veneration of the Eucharist dovetailed with the centripetal ambitions of the thirteenth-century Roman Catholic church and intellectual-theological debates associated with the importation of Aristotle into Europe. Liturgy was in the thirteenth century a site of struggle, and in this case became the locus in which conflicting theologies of the Eucharist were manifest.

Catholic legend, as recorded in Juliana's vita, notes that her initial desire for the veneration of the Sacrament in its own feast day was amplified by a vision of the Church under the appearance of the full moon having one dark spot, which signified the absence of such a solemnity. In 1210, at the age of eighteen, she reported her first such vision in which she was instructed to institute the feast of Corpus Christi. Juliana's legendary vision is illustrated on the historiated initial of her vita as it appears in Paris, Bibliotheque de l'Arsenal, MS 945, fol.2. The vision was repeated over the next twenty years, according to the legend, and was eventually relayed to her confessor, Canon John of Lausanne (Canon of Saint Martin's basilica). Canon John had many contacts among the distinguished French theologians and Dominican Professors who had gathered in Liège. These included Hugh of Saint-Cher, the Dominican Provincial, and Jacques of Troyes, archdeacon of Liège, who later became bishop of the church of Verdun, then Patriarch of Jerusalem, and finally, pope, under the name Urban IV. Canon John reportedly relayed Julinana's vision to these emerging religious leaders. Visions are characteristic of vitae from the period; they provided a venue through which women might speak on religious matters.

Upon receiving approbation from local religious authorities, Juliana set to task with John, a young and innocent brother, and they composed the initial version of the office, Animarum cibus. This early office can be found in the composite manuscript, The Hague, National Library of the Netherlands, KB 70.E.4. Years later, in 1264, Pope Urban IV, perhaps looking back on his Liège years, commissioned his chief theologian, Saint Thomas Aquinas, to compose an office for the Feast of Corpus Christi. Saint Thomas composed two versions, with considerable textual overlap: Sapiencia edificavit (no Latin misspelling here) and then Sacerdos in eternum. The inter-textuality of these offices has been the topic of considerable research, with most scholars concluding that they represent "draft" and final versions of the work of Saint Thomas. Pope Urban IV recorded the initial celebration in letters to the various clergy, but also to Juliana's friend, Eve of Saint-Martin. The latter is thought by contemporary scholars to have composed the initial version of Juliana's vita in French and thus stands, alongside Juliana, as among the first women authors.

The three versions of the office, taken together, provide a witness for the changing definitions of the Eucharist in the thirteenth century. Remnants of the idea of a corporeal presence can be found in Animarum cibus. And the first formal theological statement of the doctrine of transubstantiation can be found in the homily by Saint Thomas in the Sacerdos in eternum version as found in BNF 1143 (a musical manuscript devoted entirely to the office). Scholars have also noted the movement from doctrinal to biblical versions in the office texts. And, stylistically, Juliana's version sets known texts to new music; the Aquinas version rearranges biblical quotations to known chants, thus creating contrafacta.

Juliana's life was filled with tulmult, largely as a consequence of the religious and political controversies rampant in Liège: rising urban bourgeoisie demanding new rights, political rivalries between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, and internecine quarrels among the lower nobility in Flanders. These conflicts created a context ripe for a religious visionary and her movement. When Juliana became prioress of the monastery in 1230, she reinstated strict Augustinian rules. In 1240, the convent and adjacent leprosarium came under the supervision of a named Roger, a vicious man who had gained the position through simony and intrigue. He immediately disliked both Juliana and her reproaches, and incited the citizenry against her, accusing her of diverting funds and stealing the monastery's charters. She fled to the cell of Eve of Liège, the anchoress at Saint-Martin's, and was then received into Canon John's house, adjacent to the basilica. With the help of Robert of Thourotte, the Bishop of Liège, Juliana was vindicated and restored to her former position in the convent. Roger was deposed; however, in 1247, on the death of Bishop Robert of Thourette, he once again regained control of Mont Cornillon under the new, Bishop Henry de Gueldre, and Juliana was again driven out. These events in Juliana's biography, to a certain extent, point to the the larger historical backdrop of rivalry over the vacated bishopric, amplified by the excommunication of Frederick II by Innocent IV operating alongside a group of supporters who were also among Juliana's friends.

Thereafter Juliana found refuge in the Cistercian monasteries at Robermont, Val-Benoit, and Val-Notre-Dame, and then among the poor beguine. Aided by Abbess Imene, who was the sister of Archbishop Conrad of Cologne, Juliana took up residence at the Cistercian Abbey of Salzinnes, and finally Fosses-la-Ville, where she lived in seclusion until she died. On her deathbed she asked for her confessor, John of Lausanne, supposedly to reveal to him long hidden secrets. But neither he nor any of her friends from Liege arrived.[1] Upon her death, based on her wishes, her friend, the Cistercian monk Gobert d'Aspremont, moved her body to Villers Abbey. On the following Sunday her remains were moved to the section of the cemetery reserved for saints. Although her cult developed immediately, it did not receive official recognition until 1869, in the wake of Vatican I, under Pius IX. She remains one of the few women's voices that can be heard among many silent ones of the thirteenth century -- a martyr and saint, with a liturgical legacy.


In 1264 Pope Urban IV issued the papal bull Transiturus in which the feast of Corpus Christi, i.e. the feast of Body of Christ was declared a feast throughout the entire Latin Rite.[2]This was the very first papally sanctioned universal feast in the history of the Latin Rite.[3] The feast is celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday.

Juliana was beatified in 1869 by Pius IX and further celebrated by Pope John Paul II, who wrote a letter mentioning her on the 750th anniversary of the Feast of Corpus Christi. Her feast day is April 5.


  1. Delville, 1999, Vie de Sainte Julienne de Cornillon
  2. The Feast of Corpus Christi By Barbara R. Walters, Published by Penn State Press, 2007 ISBN 0271029242 page 12
  3. Oxford history of Christian worship By Geoffrey Wainwright, Oxford University Press 2006 ISBN 0195138864, page 248
cs:Juliana z Lutychupt:Juliana de Mont Cornillon

sl:Sveta Julija Lieška

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