14 July 2009

Holy Martyrs Julius & Aaron

Today, 1 July on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of the Holy Martyrs Julius and Aaron († c. 303), traditionally the Protomartyrs of Wales. The earliest source for these Martyrs is St Gildas the Wise, who tells us precious little except that the Holy Martyrs Aaron and Julius were identified with ‘the city of the legions’ (traditionally held to be Caerleon-on-Usk) and that they ‘were tormented with divers sufferings, and their limbs were racked in such unheard of ways, that they, without delay, erected the trophies of their glorious martyrdom even in the gates of the city of Jerusalem’ (J.A. Giles, trans.; from the Internet Medieval Source Book). St Gildas is concerned, however, that access to their shrine has been hindered (a fact leading one historian to dispute the identification of the site as Caerleon in favour of York), which suggests that whether or not ‘trophies’ had been erected in Jerusalem, people were making pilgrimages to the site of the martyrdom to venerate the Martyrs.

In a passage clearly indebted to St Gildas, the Venerable Bede, too, mentions them briefly in EH I.7 (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, ed. Judith McClure and Roger Collins [Oxford: Oxford U, 1994], p. 19):

About this time [the martyrdom of St Alban] Aaron and Julius, both citizens of the city of the Legions (Caerleon), suffered, and many others of both sexes in various other places. They were racked by many kinds of torture and their limbs were indescribably mangled but, when their sufferings were over, their souls were carried to the joys of the heavenly city.

I don’t know what to make of it, but it is interesting to note that St Bede seems to have slightly modified St Gildas here. Perhaps, rightly or wrongly, he took St Gildas’s ‘city of Jerusalem’ to be a reference to the ‘New Jerusalem’, i.e., the ‘heavenly city’, or perhaps he was uncertain of the likelihood of the British Martyrs being venerated in the earthly Jerusalem. According to Butler, however, ‘Leland and Bale say, Ss Julius and Aaron had travelled to Rome, and “there applied themselves to the sacred studies”.’

As I have mentioned before, they are given a date of commemoration (22 July) in the 9th-c. Martyrology compiled by Florus of Lyon (a date given, according to Butler, to another St Aaron as well—of Brittany), and are even invoked in the marginalia of a 9th-c. manuscript—copied by an unknown Irish monk—of Priscian’s Institutiones Grammaticæ at the famous Abbey of St Gall in Switzerland (see Field). According to the Our Sunday Visitor’s Encyclopedia of Saints, however, they are commemorated on 1 July (Matthew Bunson, et al., Our Sunday Visitor's Encyclopedia of Saints, rev. ed. [Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2003], p. 23), the date Field says is that of the Prophet Aaron in at least one early martyrology. My favourite online Orthodox calendar, based, I believe, on the St Herman calendar, also supports this date.

The icon above (from Orthodox England) is that of All Saints of the British Isles. The Holy Martyrs Julius and Aaron do not, however, seem to be depicted.


Mary in Monmouth said...

Hello Aaron. I am Eve and have a blog 'Mary in Monmouth' and was interested in your Logismoi comment about the holy saints Julius and Aaron. I have some extra information about this. Caerleon lies in Monmouthshire and I actually used to live at St Julians.

I recently traced St Tewdrig (named after Theoderic) the hermit King of Tintern. Therelics of the saint have been secretly preserved at MATHERN near Chepstow and were 'examined' earlier last century and bear out the wounds described in the 'Cambro British Saints'.
St Aaron's place of Martyrdom was found-by the local archeological society in the part of Caerleon known as 'St Aarons'. Names such as 'Aaron's Ditch' and 'Aaron's Field' in Welsh give credence as the finding of Christian graves surrounding it.
St Julius Martyrum, (chapel of his martyrdom) was in existance on the bank of the Usk and a whole housing development of St Julians grew up around it.Sadly after Great Plague it seems to have fallen into disuse and was a ruin at the time of the 'reformation' and the anglican cllergyman and aristocrat built a home there, using the Holy Julius' chapel as a stable(!!!) I remember this house, which was locally known as 'The St Julian's Mansion' as a child as we used to play there, but I knew little of its significance. I was not a Catholic then and did not revere it.
However, in 1997 with the Labour Government in power, the town council demolished it all , and the bricks from the Martyrum were taken to the local Anglican Church at Heather Road (SS Julius and Aaron) where they remain. This is an Anglican Church,very high church and beautiful.
More exciting, I noticed in a book that there was a Roman grave stone at Tredunnock Church (Homestead of Ferns in English) and went to find it. I was lucky enough to get in , and the Vicar's wife told me that the National Museum of Wales had just returned it from Cardiff and DEFINITELY dated it to around the 2-3rd Details by the founder was at great pains to say it was not the body of St Julius the Martyr, but the date in the mid sixteenth century by a Protestant overseer , charged with keeping covert Catholics away from their secret hilltop masses had written it. Although the details-St Julius was 40 years old, the gravestone donated by his wife, it was buried in Christian fashion ,pointed towards Jerusalem, rather than cremated. On the outside it bore the inscription 'to the gods below' but we think this may have been not to draw attention to it.The finding of the stone could establish the persecution as that of Septimus Severus or Decius rather than 303 which was accepted after the report of Bede, who could be quite vague about dates.
SS Julius, Aaron and Alban is the dedication of the local RC Church both at Caerleon and at St Julians. In fact even the Methodists and Baptist Churches are named after St Julian!
I have some photos of the locations annd the stone (very worn) at Tredunnock Church.
Very much enjoy your blog! God Bless-In His Name...Eve

Gareth Leyshon said...

Found and enjoyed your blog while searching for a picture of Julius & Aaron. Alas, it seems the two solider-saints are George and Alban according to the index of the icon. The index does not even mention SS Julias & Aaron... though it does mention "Ss SOCRATES and STEPHEN, who were martyred in Monmouthshire in 304 under the persecution of Diocletian."

aaronandbrighid said...

Fr Gareth> Thank you. Well, that's too bad. Have there been no depictions of these Saints then?