Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Monday, February 16, 2015

Juliana of Nicomedia, Virgin Martyr

Juliana of Nicomedia (martyred 16 February 304)


First mentioned in a fifth-century martyrology attributed to St. Jerome, Juliana of Nicomedia is the daughter of a pagan father, Africanus. Juliana was martyred during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian. Her father had arranged for her marriage to an influential senator, a marriage Juliana resisted because she had secretly converted to Christianity and wished to remain a virgin. Juliana was arrested, tortured, and finally beheaded.

Circumstantial details in the accounts of Juliana's martyrdom vary. In some accounts, Juliana refuses to marry unless her new husband will convert to Christianity, which he refuses to do. Her martyrdom is also at times said to have occurred not under Diocletian but under the Emperor Galerius Maximianus. And accounts about where her remains are also vary--her body is said to have been removed from Nicomedia by a noblewoman and taken to Italy--either to Campania or to Pozzuoli, a town near Naples, then moved to Cumae (also near Naples). A letter from the sixth-century Pope Gregory the Great about Juliana's remains suggests that they were--or that he believed them to be--in Naples. However, a thirteenth century document survives that purports to be an eyewitness account of the removal of her remains to Naples. According to another tradition, Juliana is buried now in the north of Spain, in Santillana del Mar ("Santillana is a contraction of Santa-Juliana"), in an abbey that is a thousand years old.

A tomb that is said to be St. Juliana's,
in Santillana del Mar
The Old English poet known as Cynewulf (c. 8th-9th century) composed a 731-line narrative poem telling the story of Juliana's martyrdom, which introduces Juliana this way:
There was a certain wealthy man of noble kind,
a mighty count. He ruled over guard-cities, ever defending
that ground and holding hoarded treasure in the city of Nicomedia.
Often he earnestly and by duty sought an idol, heathen-worship
over the word of God. His name was ascribed as Eleusius
and he had a great and renowned authority.
When his mind began to yearn after the virgin Juliana
curiosity broke him. She bore in her soul the holy troth,
eagerly intending that her maidenhood would be preserved
for the love of Christ, pure from any sin.
To read the entire poem in a modern English translation, click here.