Gustave Flaubert wrote a compilation of stories in 1877 titled “Trois Contes” in which a spiritual theme is central to his characters and plots.  La légende de Saint Julien L’hospitalier was one of the main characters in this series which originated in France and Belgium during the Moyen Age.   Flaubert was first introduced to Saint-Julien by the beautiful stained glass windows of la Cathédrale de Rouen, France,  dating back to the 13e siècle (13th century) and was so inspired by his story that he wrote La malediction de Julien as an elegy to him.  Saint-Julien is also represented in the paintings and frescoes found in the cathedrals of Trent and le Palazzo Comunale di Assisi dating to the 14th century.

Rouen Cathedral


Saint-Julien was an answer to many years of prayer by his parents and considered a gift from God.  After his birth, his father gave thanks to God saying, “« ‘Réjouis-toi, ô mère, ton fils sera un saint! beaucoup de sang, beaucoup de gloire !… toujours heureux ! la famille d’un empereur [“Rejoice, mother, your son will be a saint…from much blood, from much glory, always happy, the family of an emperor].  His parents kept this news hidden as they thought he resembled a small Jésus.

Julien’s father taught him to hunt when he was a young boy. Initially Julien appreciated this new sport; he even excelled at it. However,  killing became an obsession which he enjoyed too much. He would look upon dead little white mice and smile; this moved to  large pigeons. Flaubert described it, “The persistence of  life irritated the child … He became like them.” One day, Julien was facing a large deer.  The stag cursed Julien three times: “Maudit, maudit, maudit” (Devil, devil, devil) ! One day, fierce heart, you will assassinate thy father and thy mother! “A great disgust and sadness enveloped him.  With his face in both hands, he wept for a long time. Julien fled the castle, and did not appear again for many years.

Julien soon repented of his evil deeds and started to help others in need and even formed an army of his own. In turn, he rescued the Dauphin of France and the King of England according to the great legend. He freed many people, including queens confined in towers. Julien become saintement which was predicted once by his mother. One of the rewards of his good deeds was to marry the daughter of the emperor, which fulfilled the prediction of the Bohême.

Julien and his wife were very happy together. “Sometimes in a dream, he was seen as father Adam in the middle of Paradise, among all animals”, described Flaubert. However, Julien continued to be haunted by the image of the deer and all the animals he had tortured. His wife could feel his troubled mind, “What ails you, dear lord? ” Finally, he confessed his horrible thoughts to her and then set out on a quest into the woods to quiet this inner demon.

While Julien was hunting in the woods one day, an old man and an old woman came to visit his home. They were Julien’s parents, who had traveled for several years in order to find him. When the old woman realized that she finally found their son and that he had married the daughter of the Emperor of Occtania, she exclaimed, “the glory of my son is only the dawn of eternal splendor.” Julien’s wife was very happy to meet her in-laws and invited them to spend the night and wait for the return of Julien.

Meanwhile, Julien had a second horrible experience in the woods. All the animals he had pursued came to life and represented themselves surrounding him in close circle.  Julien could not even muster the strength to cry Grâce and ran directly home. To his surprise, however, when he returned home, he saw an old woman and bearded man asleep in his bed. Flaubert described the scene, “Bursting with inordinate anger, he leapt on them stabbing them, foaming at the mouth and howling as a wild beast. Then he stopped. ” His father and mother were before him, lying their backs, dead. The third prophecy of the deer had been fulfilled.  After the funeral, the dead were buried, and “no one dared speak to him.”

Julien took the path of a servant and fled back to the mountains. For the second time, he lived in isolation. Balzac described it, “He did not rebel against God, who had administered the action, yet despaired of being able to commit”. One day he decided to build a boat and help people cross a canal with no charge. One of his passengers was a leper. The leper said, “I’m hungry! “, so Julien gave him what he had. ” I’m thirsty.” I’m cold.” Finally, “May I have your bed?” Julian helped him gently to it. The leper then asked Julien to undress him. “I will die,” he said to Julien. After Julien had granted him all of his requests, the leper died and Julien was taken to heaven, face to face with the Lord Jesus. Saint Julian was a gift of God to his parents but also a curse.  But in the end, his life of repentance and service are remembered to this day.

Rouen Cathedral, 2012

Copyright 2016 by Robyn Lowrie.  May be quoted in part or full with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (