Saint Julian by Walter Wangerin, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Saint Julian

Saint Julian

by Walter Wangerin

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This haunting medieval novella, set somewhat ambiguously in the period of the Crusades, tells the story of Julian the Hospitaller, drawn from ancient legend. Revered for his famous devotion to the church, Julian must hide a violent nature that leads him to love the hunt and the kill above all. Saint Julian follows the inexorable descent of this golden-boy


This haunting medieval novella, set somewhat ambiguously in the period of the Crusades, tells the story of Julian the Hospitaller, drawn from ancient legend. Revered for his famous devotion to the church, Julian must hide a violent nature that leads him to love the hunt and the kill above all. Saint Julian follows the inexorable descent of this golden-boy hero from favored son of nobility to the depths of beggardom, and eventual sainthood.

Rich with fascinating historical detail and deft religious metaphor, this story is powerfully gripping and lingers long after the read. Wangerin's juxtaposition of the forces of tremendous privilege and duty with those of obsession and fate make for storytelling at its finest. His language is dark, spare, and vivid -- as sure and sharp as the marksmanship of Julian the obsessed hunter.

Julian's terrible fate is inescapable -- yet it is only when he can sink no further that the fantastical possibility of his transformation breaks through like a thunderbolt to gather up his broken life. Prophetic and lyrical, Saint Julian will transport readers to a distant time filled with meaning for our own.

Editorial Reviews

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
“[A] masterfully crafted and spellbinding story of sin and grace...”
Books and Culture
“In Wangerin’s hands the medieval saint’s tale is marvelously transformed to speak to a contemporary audience....”
Grand Rapids Press
“[A] rich, strange tale, this time in antique language that imposes formality, leaving us space for wonder and meditation.”
“[A] mesmerizing fictional account of the life of Saint Julian.”
Wall Street Journal
“There is a loveliness to the prose . . . [A] story of salvation with a genuine soul.”
Christianity Today
“[D]ark and vividly imagined ... a compelling tale of depravity and redemption.”
Publishers Weekly
National Book Award-winning author Wangerin (The Book of Dun Cow) retells the story of St. Julian the Hospitaller, patron saint of carnival workers, ferrymen, wandering musicians and other peripatetic souls. The narrator is an elderly cleric in a small parish "in the neglected center of a city of considerable size" somewhere in Europe, in some indeterminate time; the story of St. Julian once brought the cleric out of despair, and he is anxious to tell it himself for the masses, for Julian is "the Saint of them that have sinned uncommonly, whether by heart or by hand." Born in medieval Europe to a noble family, Julian has blood lust from a young age. As a teenager, he goes hunting purely for the ecstasy of the kill. One day a stag, dying at his hand, prophesies that Julian will murder his own parents. Julian flees his home in terror of the prophesy, becomes a brutal warrior and takes a wife. While he is away pillaging, his parents come to his castle. His wife receives them warmly and unwittingly offers them her bed. When Julian comes home the stag's prediction reaches its inevitable, tragic fulfillment. In his grief, Julian becomes a beggar, seeking degradation in every form and doing good works for the poor, which include building a hospice and inns. The story is beautifully written, in a style that is formal without being overly lyrical or stagily archaic. The fable-like narrative won't be for everyone, but those interested in the lives of the saints will enjoy this imaginative tale. (Mar.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The life of the legendary medieval penitent and saint, retold with style and elegance by Wangerin (The Crying for a Vision, 1994, etc.). Julian’s origins are so dubious that he isn’t on the calendar—yet his cult is so popular (he’s the patron saint of ferrymen, among others) that there are thousands of churches dedicated to him throughout of Europe (St. Julien-le-Pauvre in Paris may be the most famous). Flaubert wrote a famous story about him ("The Legend of St. Julian Hospitater" [sic]), and now Wangerin has taken up the legend, speaking through the mouth of an elderly priest in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere who has decided to write an account of the saint. The son of a nobleman, Julian worked wonders before he was even in the cradle (the touch of his infant tears saved his mother from death during his delivery), and from his earliest days he combined the fervor of a saint with the courage of a soldier. The combination was not as harmonious as it may sound: Julian’s passion for warfare was such that a kind of blood lust would sometimes come over him and he would hunt secretly at night for the sheer joy of killing his prey. When a stag, dying from one of Julian’s blows, spoke to him and told him that he would one day kill his own parents, Julian was overcome with shame and ran away from home in remorse and terror. Eventually, the stag’s prophecy (and worse) comes to pass, and Julian tries to atone through a life of penitence in service to the poor. He builds a hospice for the sick and provides shelter for pilgrims and wanderers. His salvation comes when he takes in a miserable leper who, turning out to be Christ in disguise, embraces Julian and bears his soul to heaven. Anexquisite rendering of the ancient tale, with none of the anachronistic ironies that such updatings too often contain.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.54(d)

Read an Excerpt

Saint Julian

Concerning the Mother of the Saint

I know not her name. In no account is the name of the mother of the Saint remembered. It is in the light of the name of her son that we see her at all, for his tale embraces her. Nevertheless, the mother was whole ere the boy was born, and it is in her that he came to be. Without Julian, his mother would not have been remembered; but without his mother, Julian would not have been.

Therefore, honor obliges us to grant her place and personhood here at the head of the tale.

Julian's mother, gracious in every regard, was a slender woman with slightly caven shoulders and a quick, bright eye. Her face, in sweet descent from the brow to the chin, showed first the temples of stable thought and wise administration; next, the dawn-blush of joy and high-blooded health; and finally the raised taper of noble certitude -- which, in her husband's presence, lowered to noble compliance. Ah, and then how glad was the Lord of the Castle to find the gift of such compliance in the face of his lady! And how rich was the issue of Compliance and Gladness commingled together: for the issue was Julian himself, appearing pink and dimpled on the Feast Day of St. Michael, Archangel.

His mother bore her child quietly, as Mary must have delivered her own, for each woman was faithful unto God and of God she bore the fruit.

Quiet in childbirth, quiet abroad, devoutly quiet both at prayer and at table, this woman did nonetheless manage the estates of her husband when he was gone to court or to war -- or else on pilgrimage. And daily after Mass had been said in the chapel, after breakfast had been taken in her own apartments, Julian's mother moved forth to direct the household staff in all its regular duties, whether the lord was in residence or not.

Her hair was abundant and beautiful. There was none who met her that did not remark -- at least prively -- upon its shining plenitude. Alone, the woman would gather the masses and cover them with a woolen cap for comfort and for the warmth. When busy about her common responsibilities, however, she wove her hair into a golden rope which dropped from a head erect straight down her back, where it swung like a censer in rhythm to her tread. Over her crown, on such days, and under her chin she bound a white linen wimple which she wore both indoors and out. When the weather looked kindly upon her, she covered her head with nothing but this wimple, and breezes in the bailey would catch at its shoulder-folds and puff them with air and lift them around her head as if they were the wings of the white swan of lazy waters, unfolding now toward flight.

Blue-eyed, with lily-white skin -- Oh, how comely was the Lady of the Castle as she ducked her head and grabbed for the sailing linen and laughed at the whirling breezes as if they were sprites or dryads, the children of dreams and memories.

It was upon occasions of such unconscious abandon, occasions when his mother broke her silences and danced with the day, that Julian -- watching through some high window or lattice above -- was so moved with love for his mother that he fell to his knees and gave thanks unto Heaven for the rain of grace and goodness in his life.

Ah, but in the evening at banquets in the great hall, or else when her lord led her into the courts of their young king, then her golden hair was a heaven itself, abiding like cloud around her head, and God, I swear, forebore then to blame the love-locks fringing her temples.

Concerning the Father of the Saint

Of Julian's father certain records insist that from his youth he was curious for every kind of knowledge -- that after he had surpassed his tutors, this unusual lad had of his own accord read all twenty books of the Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, by which he conned an encyclopedia of subjects, from the grammatical subtleties of Latin to the nourishing properties of certain foods and drinks.

While yet his own father, Julian's grandfather, stormed in lordship, the lord-to-be, wisely to prepare himself to follow his father, went to the vintners and learned from them, to the plowmen and the scholars, all three. He put particular questions to millers and smiths and knights and counselors at law; to architects, strategists, tradesmen, priests, and the monks bent over books on boards in the abbey libraries.

And if these records are worthy of belief, then the grown man's frame, his body and his massive skull, were the perfect casement for such a mind, since he was broadly built and thickly muscled, arm and thigh; his grey eyes were generous and as widely spaced as the sun from the moon, stars glittering in the oils of his black brows.

From God Julian's father had inherited the talents of foresight and steadfast responsibility. And this was providential, since from his forebears -- and from his sire, at the bloody man's death -- he had inherited a raw patchwork of properties requiring a governor of his qualities precisely.

And as he had done for himself when he was young, so did the castle lord for his only begotten son.

Julian at two the Lord of the Castle bore on his shoulders; Julian at four he bore on the neck of his post-horse, riding forth with frequency to introduce the boy to estates which one day would fall unto him: fields and villages, marshland and valleys, lakes and streams, forests for hunting and forests for timber, the which the lord both sold and used in his own constructions. And when they reined around, father and son, to return home in the green of the evening, there, on high ground above a bend in the treacherous river, they saw their castle ascendant, that solitary castle filling half the heavens in magisterial silhouette ...

Saint Julian. Copyright © by Walter Wangerin. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Walter Wangerin Jr. is the National Book Award-winning author of The Book of the Dun Cow. His other books include The Book of God, Ragman and Other Cries of Faith, and Miz Lil and the Chronicles of Grace.

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