St. Julian's Cross
The Legend Part II
And here we are now in the 21st century and see that nothing has changed -
the rich and powerful can get away with murder.
Julien felt his only release from torment was to punish himself by assuming a humble lifestyle of poverty.
He decided to leave the opulent castle and relinquish his dukedom. Clarisse begged to go with him since she could not bear to be alone. They abandoned all their riches and possessions to the townsfolk and set off with only the clothes they wore. With neither food nor money, they began their journey on foot to unknown destinations, praying that fate would be kind to them. For months, they scratched and begged for their food as they wandered. They bathed in the lakes and their home was the woods. They were destitute and lived as animals.
Cold and hungry, dirty and dressed in rags, they suffered the rejection of most folks they met. A few friars gave them alms but barely enough to keep them alive. Yet they did not complain of their plight, since this was the punishment they had chosen.
In time, they found themselves in Rome. They went at once for blessing and guidance from the pope, who asked why they were in such a predicament. Julien confessed his crime to the pope who gave them a penance to purge their wrongdoings and obtain pardon from God's mercy. They must go on with their journey and in the name of God, establish a hospital for the sick and the poor. Without hesitation, they accepted this new vocation and went on their way.
Their long journey took them to Galicia in northern Spain. When they reached the route known as Way of Saint James, they made camp for the night by a brook. It was a popular resting place for pilgrims on their way to pay homage to St. James's shrine at Compostela, but it was a dangerous area, since the river often flooded and drowned unwary travellers. More frequently, thieves would lie in wait to ambush journeymen and rob them of their meagre possessions.
Nevertheless, it was a good place for a camp. They could eat reasonably well: Julien summoned his hunting skills and caught small animals in the forest, whilst Clarisse collected roots and berries. With water from the river, they made a good stew. It was not long before other hungry pilgrims in the area would be attracted by the aroma and congregate on Julien's camp. There was plenty to spare and they enjoyed the company of their visitors.
They decided to stay in the area for a while, and with the help of young men in the little group, Julien collected fallen trees and branches to build a more substantial shelter. Clarisse and the women made mattresses from soft bracken and thus the foundation of their first hospice was established.
Over the coming months, many people came to stay in this warm and safe haven with Julien and his wife, to be refreshed spiritually as well as physically. Fame spread, and not only poor pilgrims but other travelling merchants and even a few minor dignitaries lodged there. Julien and Clarisse offered refreshment, comfort, protection and warmth. Most of all, they offered love.
Those visitors who could afford it, left a small payment, and Julien passed this on as alms to the poor. He bought a skiff to ferry people across the river. And for the times when the river was too swift and dangerous to row cross, he fastened a strong rope from a tree trunk on one side to a huge boulder on the other. Using this as a lifeline, he could stand in the boat and pull himself across.
In just a fortnight, with the help of three longer-term residents, he made a clearing in the forest, ploughed the land and started to grow vegetables. Over the next few years, the hospice was rebuilt with stone. All were welcomed through its doors, rich and poor, good and bad. No one was turned away and everything was done in love and in the name of God.
The Company of Innholders bears a St. Julian Cross on their coat of arms. St. Julian is patron saint of hotel-keepers and innkeepers, travellers and pilgrims, clowns, jugglers, fiddlers and other wandering musicians, circus and carnival workers, childless people, shepherds, knights, murderers, boatmen, ferrymen, and hospitallers.
One night there was a great storm and no visitors came to the hostel; the wind and rain forcing travellers to cower under bushes or whatever shelter they could find. In the middle of the night, Julien heard a feint voice crying from the other side of the river. "Help me! Help me please! For I am sick, cold and hungry. Please rescue me for surely I will perish out here..." and the voice faded away.
Julian got out of bed and in the howling wind, pushed the boat into the water. He grabbed hold of the rope strung across the river and pulled with all his might to make the crossing. As he reached the opposite bank, through the darkness Julien could see a pathetic-looking man, shivering in his old rags, not only from the biting cold, but also from illness.
Standing upright in the boat, holding on firmly to the lifeline, Julien beckoned the destitute man to approach the boat. "Sire, I cannot stand, let alone walk." whispered the man in a frail voice. "Please, you must carry me into the boat. I am too weak to move alone." As he spoke there was a crack of lightning and Julien saw to his horror, the wretched leprous ulcers that cover the man's half-naked body. He winced. "Sire. You are indeed a man of God to come to my aid, but a man nonetheless. I have leprosy and if you should choose to abandon me here, I will understand. To take me up in your arms, you must let go of the lifeline. If the boat slips away we are both doomed. Go now. Leave me here to die. Know that I thank you from the depths of my heart for your kind thoughts."
There was no way to tether the boat and Julian cried out to God: "Save us O Lord! We are together in this storm. Save us both!" With all his might, Julien heaved the boat a few precarious inches onto the bank and rushed towards the leper. Holding him close to his own body, Julien carried the untouchable into the boat, pushed it back into the churning water, leapt in and grabbed the lifeline.
As if the Devil himself was chasing them, Julien pulled at the coarse rope. Like a rasp, the rope tore away the tough skin of his palms. Yet Julien felt no pain all the way to the home bank. With his bloodied hands, he gently lifted the wretch out of the boat and bore him in his arms into the hostel where his wife had made a bright fire.
The stench of gangrene filled the air, yet the count and countess carefully peeled away the leper's dirty rags and gently bathed his body with warm oils. They covered him with clean linen and soft animal skins, then let him sip warm broth. His hands still shook with the cold and his feet were blackened with disease. As he lay on the cot, Julien and Clarisse lay either side of him; the three bodies huddled together to keep their leper warm. And they drifted off to sleep.
In the morning, Julien slowly awakened, still lying on his side in the position he had been in through the night. With his eyes still closed, he realised that the storm has passed, all was calm, and warm sunbeams were streaming through cracks in the closed window shutters. He sensed a sweet perfume in the air; no longer the putrid odour that had filled his nostrils the night before. He wondered if the leper had perished through the night, but no, the body next to his was warm. He slowly opened his eyes but could not believe what he saw! For it was not the leper, but his wife who was wrapped in his arms. He recoiled in shock and she opened her eyes. "How can this be?" he exclaimed. "Where is he?"
They jumped from the cot and looked around the room. Nobody else was there; the windows and door were still barred from the inside, just as they had secured them the night before against the driving wind and rain. The room was small and sparsely furnished; there was nowhere to hide. Their visitor had simply disappeared! Could they have dreamt the whole episode? Were last night's mushrooms to blame? None of this made sense, for there, in front of the dying embers of the fire were the torn rags of the leper.
Bewildered, they washed and prepared themselves for the day, opening the hostel ready to accept the bedraggled travellers who couldn't make it the night before.
It was not long before a priest arrived. They had been visited by this priest several times before, and he was not known for his easy conversation. But this time, the priest was eager to relate a dream he had had the night before.
His dream was of a couple who lived on the edge of a forest, by a river. An angel of God had visited the couple, disguised as a leper. The couple did not see it was an angel, indeed, they did not see the man as a leper; they just saw a man who needed their love. The couple took him into their home, fed and bathed him, and gave him warmth. That night, whilst the couple slept, the angel rose from the cot, a light glowed around him, and gradually, the angel faded away.
Julien's wife died seventeen years later of old age, and Julien continued his work alone. Never hesitating to help and share love. Whether this was through giving food and shelter, alms and security, or even just listening to people's troubles, Julien knew that as long as he gave, and as long as his giving was with love, he would not starve.
He died in peace.