13 - 18 minutes readJune 16 – Sts. Cyr and Julitta, Martyrs ~ Dom Prosper Gueranger

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June 16 – Sts. Cyr and Julitta, Martyrs

All the Churches of the East, in the different tongues of their several liturgies, celebrate the glory of Julitta and of Cyr: they all extol the holy duality of the son and the mother containing in itself the perfect worship of the Trinity (Sticheron Byzantii, ad diem xv. Julii.). For the oblation of this mother and her son is of itself united to the sacrifice of the Son of God: such are in very deed the rights of the Holy Trinity, rights resulting in the case of every Christian from the first of our sacraments; absolute rights over both body and soul of even the smallest baby; such were the rights confessed by Saint Julitta and her little Cyr; yea, consecrated by their blood in one common oblation. The world was reminded yesterday in St. Vitus, of a truth too easily forgotten by a generation, such as ours, more destitute of knowledge than of love: God’s paternity is more complete than that of any earthly father, and likewise outstrips all other in the gravity of the duties it imposes on his sons. This teaching is still more strongly repeated today, and it is addressed in the first place to parents, more particularly.

Iconium, the native land of Thecla, the proto-martyr of the female sex, was likewise the home of Julitta. She, a fair flower budding forth from a royal stock of ancient kings, was to secure to her native town a renown far more lasting than did all the mighty deeds of her princely ancestors. The splendid fame inherited by this daughter of the ancient kings of Lycaonia, was nothing in her eyes compared to that which came to her through Christ. The title of Christian was the only one she made any account of, in presence of the judges on the day of her glorious triumph. Her gifts of fortune were considerable; but never did earth’s riches captivate her thoughts; and still less so from the moment God granted her a son. All treasures heaped together in one could never be comparable to that which she now held in her arms, to that child confided by her Lord to the watchful care of her maternal love. Had not Baptism turned this frail little body into a temple of the Holy Ghost? Was not this peerless soul an object of delight to the Eternal Father, who could see mirrored in its limpid innocence the true features of his well-beloved Son? Therefore, with what ineffable tenderness, with what religious watchfulness, did not this mother surround her babe who still continued to draw life from her own breast; there developing, day by day, like a delicate plant under the genial ray of the Sun of Justice! Far was she from being one of those who, without sufficient reason, pass on to another the care of nurturing the fruit they themselves have borne. As if nature itself must not recoil from such substitution, too often as disastrous to the body as to the soul of these tender little beings; as if, above all, it were not the incommunicable duty of a Christian mother and her most glorious privilege, to be ever on the watch about her child, so as to turn to God the first dawn of its wakening intelligence and the first movement of its free will. Julitta overflowed with gladness, for she knew and felt that God was blessing that which was henceforth to be her life-long cherished labor. The milk which she was giving him was impregnating her little son with the manly boldness of her race, made braver still because over-ruled by the dear name of the Lord Jesus. Rome, all conquering as she deemed herself, was soon to make trial thereof and own herself vanquished.

The frightful persecution of Diocletian’s day was then convulsing the earth; his bloody edicts were already posted up in Iconium. Julitta feared nothing for herself, but she dreaded the probability of pagan masters educating her boy, were she violently torn from him by torments and death. She saw that she must needs sacrifice all to this her primary duty of preserving her child’s soul, of which she was guardian. Without hesitating a moment, she fled to a foreign land, leaving home, family, and riches, bearing away her one life’s treasure. Two handmaids who followed her through devotedness, could not prevail upon her to let them ease her occasionally of her precious burden. When God, who delights in sating his angels gaze with a spectacle fair as this, permitted her to fall into the hands of the persecutor, ever was she beheld bearing still her boy in her arms. Julitta and Cyr are inseparable; together, they needs must appear before the judge, through whose cruelty they are to be together crowned in bliss.

Further on, we give the admirable scene that at once graced earth and ravished heaven. Let us remark that these details are as authentic as can possibly be, and are admitted by Dom Ruinart into his collection of Actes sincères. But let us also remember that he alone thoroughly honors the saints by the study of their history, who profits by the lessons they have left to the world. Recent attacks on education have but too well proved that the heroism of Julitta is by no means intended to lie by, as a dead letter, or as an object of mere futile admiration, but rather that it is meant to serve as an example, called in thousands of cases into absolute and practical requisition by the troubles of these present times. Duty does not alter from century to century; the difficulty of fulfilling it, which may indeed vary with circumstances of time and place, removes nothing of the inflexibility of its imperative demands.

On the other hand, let us not forget that the Church herself is likewise a Mother, and that she too owns it her bounden duty to suckle her children. Never have her protestations been hushed against the tyrants of any century who would separate her little ones from her. If then it should happen that a violent blow be so dealt as to tear a child from the arms of Mother Church, then he must know that it becomes a duty for him to imitate the brave little son of Julitta. Is he not likewise a son of the Dove? Then let him prove himself so; let him become holily obstinate in repeating that one word “Holy Church;” let him struggle to reach her, all the more vigorously in proportion as efforts are made to drag him further from her. How could he but abhor the odious caresses of one who would dare to assume her place in his regard? All other help failing, who could but applaud if he, like Saint Cyr, were to repulse by such means as his feebleness can permit, the hand that would kill his body? And is the soul that is in him less precious? and if need be, must he not sacrifice even his own body to save his soul? We certainly ought to think so: and does it not seem that Providence had the future in view when, at so early a date, he permitted the precious relics of this son and mother to be brought to France?

The century that witnessed their bloody sacrifice to God had not ran out, ere Cyr and Julitta seemed to choose the Gallic shore for their adopted home: an emigration fraught with graces for France! Scarce had the turmoil of invasion ceased, than numberless sanctuaries were raised in honor of their loved name; which circumstance proves how popular was their cultus amongst the chivalrous sons of the Franks. The symbol used in Christian art to distinguish Saint Cyr is a wild boar; the reason is that Charlemagne was miraculously delivered from the fangs of one of these savage brutes by the intercession of Saint Cyr. In thanksgiving, the Cathedral of Nevers rebuilt by this emperor was placed under the invocation of this sainted child who, together with his mother, is patron of the whole diocese, wherein no fewer than four feasts are celebrated in their honor during the year.

The various Churches that keep the feast of Saints Cyr and Julitta borrow the Lessons of their Office from the following celebrated letter written regarding them in the 6th century by Theodore, Bishop of Iconium. The text we here give is taken from the Proper of the Church of Villejuif near Paris, which is richly endowed with their relics. Indeed the name Villejuif is said to be a popular corruption of Villa Julittæ.

Ex Epistola Theodori, episcopi Iconiensis de passione SS. Cyrici et Julittæ. From the letter of Theodore, Bishop of Iconium, concerning the martyrdom of Saints Cyr and Julitta.
Julitta Iconiorum regio orta semine, cum vehementior in christanos sæviret persecutio, Domitiano Lycaoniæ comite, fuga se cum duabus ancillis trimuloque filio suo Cyrico, Iconio, unde et orta erat, proripuit. Substantia itaque qua valde locuples erat relicta, Seleuciam pervenit: quo ipso loco turbatas magis res christianorum offendens, Alexandro quodam Seleuciæ præside a Diocletiano constituto, a quo ipso recens edictum accepisset, quo jubebantur omni tormentorum genere excruciari qui idolis non immolarent, Tarsum abit. Velut autem ex condicto, commigrante illuc immani ac durissimo Alexandro, comprehenditur inclyta victrix martyr Lulitta, suis ipsa ulnis tenella valde ætate puellum Cyricum completens. Illa tribunali adhibita, nomenque ac fortunam, patriamque ab Alexandro rogata, præsidenti animo respondens judici, Domini nostri Jesu Christi sibi nomen adscivit, dicens: Christiana sum. Ira itaque accensus Alexander, tolli ab ea puerum jussit, ac ad se adduci: matrem vero distentam crudis nervis immaniter cædi imperavit. Julitta was born of the royal stock of Iconium. Persecution raging under Domitian, the Governor of Lycaonia, she fled from her native city, together with two handmaids and her son, named Cyr, aged three. Having thus abandoned all her property, which was considerable, she came to Seleucia. But there, she found the Christians suffering even more. Alexander, the President placed there by Diocletian, had just received the Emperor’s edict ordering to subject to every kind of torture, all such as refused to adore the idols. Julitta therefore travelled to Tarsus. Now, just as though he were fain purposely to pursue her, it so fell out, that Alexander, that hard and harsh man, arrived at Tarsus as soon as she. Our noble victrix Julitta the martyr was arrested, bearing in her arms her little son Cyr of tender age. Being brought before the tribunal, Alexander demanded her name, condition, and country. She boldly replied, sheltering herself under the only name of our Lord Jesus Christ: “I am a Christian.” Alexander inflamed with rage, commanded that the child should be taken from his mother and brought to him, while she was being beaten cruelly with the sinews of oxen.
Vi autem abs strenuæ matris sinu avulsum puerum, totumque in matrem gestentiem, nec ab ea ocellos avocantem, carnifices prætori afferunt. Acceptum prætor manu puerum blande deliniens, a fletu cohibere omnino nitebatur, genibusque impositum accipere osculo conabatur. Puer vero, intentis in matrem luminibus, prætorem abs se submovebat ac caput avertebat; manibusque obnitens, prætoris faciem unguiculis scalpebat; velut denique castæ turturis pullus, æmulam sanctus Cyricus vocem pronuntiavit, eamdem ipsius matris prædicationem edens, ac clamans: Christianus sum. Calcibus quoque judicis latus petebat; quamobrem excandens agrestis illa fera, nec enim homo nuncupandus sit qui nec in rudem ac innoxiam mitescat ætatem, pede arreptum e sublimi solio puerum terræ allidit. Præclari vero martyris cerebra ea in confessione ad graduum angulos colliso, circum late tribunalis area cruore opplebatur. Julitta exsuperanti gaudio repleta: Gratias tibi ago, Domine, aiebat, quod filium me priorem consummatum, immarescibilem coronam dignanter consequi voluisti. Only by main force could they drag the child from his mother’s bosom, for he kept clinging close unto her; and when at last torn from her, he kept urging towards her with all possible movements of his little limbs, nor would he take his eyes off her, and thus the executioners handed him to the President. He having got him in his grasp, began caressing the child, striving to stay his tears, dancing him on his knee, and trying to force the poor babe to let him kiss him. All to no purpose; the boy would fix his eyes only upon his mother, pushing the President away and turning his little head from him: then making use of his hands he began to scratch the President’s face; at last like to the little nestling of the chaste dove, he would imitate the voice of his mother, and pronounce the very same confession he heard his mother making, crying out thus: “I am a Christian.” Then did he kick with his feet against the sides of the Judge. No longer able to restrain his fury, this savage beast (for man he cannot be termed, who could not be touched by this tender harmless age), seized the babe by the foot, and ruthlessly flung him to the ground. The brains of this noble martyr were thus dashed out against the sharp corners of the steps, in the very act of this his confession, and the ground all about the tribunal was bespattered with his blood. Julitta exulting for joy cried out aloud: “I give Thee thanks, O Lord, that thou hast been pleased that my son should consummate his sacrifice, before myself, and that thou hast therefore given unto him the fadeless crown!”
Judex sortem ipse deplorans, suspensæ ligno seu equuleo valide fodi latera, exque lebete haustam picem bullientem pedibus affundi jubet. Tumque præconis voce jubente, atque dicente: Julitta, tui ipsa miserere diisque sacrifica, ne eamdem ac filius malam necem reportaveris; generoso illa proposito tormenta pertulit, clamans ac dicens: Ego dæmonibus non sacrifico, sed Christum Dei Filium unigenitum colo, per quem Pater condidit omnia, ac festino meum assequi filium, quo illi socia in regno cœlorum efficiar. Ubi, omnem vicens insaniam, sævus judex constantem in pugna advertit martyris animum, adversus eam sententiam dicit, cædi gladio feminæ cervicem, filii cadaver in damnatorum locum projici jubens. Consummatur Christi gratia tum triumphatrix martyr Julitta, tum gloriosus atque inclytus ejus filius Cyricus, decimo septimo Kalendas Augusti. Hos martyres Patronos Ecclesia Nivernensis agnoscit, necnon et inter alias plures Ecclesias et Monasteria hujusce regni, vicus prope Parisios Villa Judæa dictus, qui utriusque Martyris reliquiarum non modica portione gloriatur, et cum summa veneratione colit. The judge ashamed of himself and still more infuriated, caused Julitta to be now hoisted on the rack; commanding her sides likewise to be torn, and boiling pitch to be poured upon her feet. During the execution, a crier proclaimed: “Julitta, take pity on thyself and sacrifice to the gods; dread the same unhappy death that hath befallen thy son.” But the valiant martyr unmoved in the midst of torments cried out, in her turn: “I will never sacrifice to demons, but I pay homage to Christ, the Only Son of God, by whom the Father created all things; I am in haste to rejoin my child, and so be united to him forever in the heavenly Kingdom.” Then the cruel Judge, pushing his folly to the last extreme, pronounced his sentence against her whose constancy he despaired of vanquishing in combat: “This woman,” so ran the sentence, “shall have her head cut off by a sword, and the body of her son shall be thrown where criminals’ corpses are cast.” It was on the seventeenth of the Kalends of August that Julitta the noble martyr, and Cyr her glorious son consummated their triumph, through the grace of Jesus Christ. The Church of Nevers claims them as her patrons, as do likewise many other Churches and Monasteries of the kingdom, amongst which the parish of Villejuif, near Paris, glories in possessing a considerable portion of the relics of these two Martyrs, and surrounds them with highest veneration.

Thy desire is fulfilled, O Julitta, thou hast rejoined thy child! Ye form conjointly a fair ornament of the heavens, just as on earth ye did ever abide in one. The angels are in admiration at the sight of such a mother and child united thus in endless praise unto the thrice holy God. They realize the great truth that the creation of their sublime hierarchies exhausted not the Wisdom of the Creator. The nine choirs, all unfolded simultaneously beneath the gaze of the Eternal, communicated light and love one to the other, in perfect order; there was naught to betoken in the wondrous assemblage any further design of the Lord, conceived in favor of other created beings to be equally brought into relationship with himself, for his glory’s sake. Yet so it was to be: human nature has this advantage over the angelical, namely, that it imitates, in its manner of intercommunication, the essential relation of God the Father and of his Word; that which the highest Seraphim can say to none, man in his own person can repeat to his fellow man that utterance of God himself: “Thou art my son!” This filiation, without which man cannot attain to the terrestrial, perishable life of this lower world, he again receives a second time, nonetheless really, yea, eternally,—in the supernatural order; for nature is but a frail image of the realities which are the portion of God’s Elect. Thus was it, O Julitta, that thou didst become, twice over, the mother of that saintly child thou didst bear in thine arms; ah! how far was thy first maternity outstripped by the second, whereby thou didst bring him forth unto glory! In intensity of suffering likewise did this second child-birth of thy martyrdom outdo the first; but this is only the law common to all maternity since the fall: the sentence that touched Eve has its echo even in the world of grace.

Now dost thou remember no longer thy travails! The sacrifice of mother and of son, begun in the anguish of a dolorous confession, is this day become a sacrifice of praise and of gladness. For this your mutual oblation is continued in heaven: it remains for ever the basis of those powerful and sweet relations wherein God finds his glory; it is the source of those benedictions which the Lord showers upon earth on your account. Would, then, O holy Martyrs, that you could hasten the return of the East to the true Light, that East which gave you life and to which, in return, you gave your precious blood! Bless the West also, where so many churches are raised to your honor and celebrate your feast. May France, especially, your second country, ever feel the potent effects of a patronage that can be traced on historic annals, up to the earliest dates of her existence. Charlemagne, that mighty emperor, on his knees before thee, O Cyr, is a fact all eloquent of thy powerful intercession, O thou little son of Julitta! Nevers too, in these our own days, can prove the same; for to thee she justly attributes her preservation from the Prussian invasion, when all the neighborhood was devastated by the hostile troops!

At present not only France, but other countries, are suffering from trials worse even than invasion, trials in many ways resembling yours, O holy Martyrs! Uphold the faith in the breasts of Mothers, O Julitta; uphold their Christian instincts to the full height of the lofty teachings conveyed in the story of thy glorious combat. In the face of tyranny which would fain lay grasping hold on education in view of poisoning the immortal souls of children, do thou, O Cyr, stir up among these little ones, faithful imitators of thyself! Not long ago, some have shown this noble spirit; under the hateful pressure of impious masters who persisted in dictating to them lessons condemned by Holy Church, they dared to write out nothing but the Credo they had learned at their mother’s knee. Well done, brave and noble-hearted children! Thou, O Cyr, didst surely thrill with gladness at such a sight rivaling thee in magnanimity. All, then, is not lost for France and these other afflicted lands. May thine intercession, blended with that of thy mother, develop more and more in the breasts of the little ones of God’s Church, this consciousness of the holy liberty which is their portion by their very baptism. Such consciousness as this maintained and exhibited the while it bends them in dutiful submission to all power emanating from God, will nevertheless prevail at last over the prince of this world with his Cæsarism! Yea, the very safety of society depends on such noble independence as this, in the Christian sense, in face of all abuse of power!


This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)