Roman Legends: A Collection of the Fables and Folk-lore of Rome | Annotated Tale

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Penance of San Giuliano, The


'CAN you tell me the story of San Giovanni Bocca d'oro?'

               'Of course I know about San Giovanni Bocca d'oro, that is, I know he was a great penitent, but I couldn't remember anything, not to tell you about him. But I know about another great penitent. Do you know about the Penitence of San Giuliano? That is a story you'll like if you don't know it already; but it's not a favola, mind.'

               'I know there are seven or eight saints at least of the name of Julian, but I don't know the acts of them all; so pray tell me your story.'

               'Here it is then.

               'San Giuliano was the only son of his parents, who lived at Albano. In his youth he was rather wild, [1] and gave his parents some anxiety; but what gave them more anxiety still on his account was that an astrologer had predicted that when he grew up he should kill both his parents.

               '"It is not only for our lives," said the parents, "that we should be concerned--that is no such great matter; but we must put him out of the way of committing so great a crime."

               'Therefore they gave him a horse, and his portion of money, and told him to ride forth and make himself a home in another place. So San Giuliano went forth; and thirty years passed, and his parents heard no more of him. Thirty years is a long time; many things pass out of mind in thirty years. Thus the astrologer's prediction passed out of their minds; but what never passes out of the mind of a mother is the love of her child, and the mother of San Giuliano yearned to see him after thirty years as though he had gone away but yesterday.

               'One day when they were walking in the woods about Albano they saw a little boy come and climb into a tree and take a bird's nest; and presently, after the little boy was gone away with the nest, the parent birds came back and fluttered all about, and uttered piercing cries for the loss of their young.

               '"See!" said San Giuliano's mother, taking occasion by this example, "how these unreasoning creatures care for the loss of their young, and we live away from our only son and are content."

               '"By no means are we content," replied the father; "let us therefore rise now and go seek him."

               'So they put on pilgrims' weeds, and wandered forth to seek their son. On and on they went till they came to a place, a city called Galizia; [2] and there, as they walk along weary, they meet a gentle lady, who looks upon them mildly and compassionately, and says, "Whence do you come, poor pilgrims? what a long way you must have travelled!" [3]

               'And they, cheered by her mode of address and sympathy, make answer, "We have wandered over mountains and plains. We come from the mountain town of Albano. We go about seeking our son Giuliano." [4]

               '"Giuliano!" exclaimed the lady, "is the name of my husband. Just now he is out hunting, but come in with me and receive my hospitality for love of his name." She took them home and washed their feet, and refreshed them, and set food before them, and ultimately gave them her own bed to sleep in.

               'But the Devil came to Giuliano out hunting, and tempted him with jealous thoughts about his wife, and tormented him with all manner of calumnious insinuations, so that his mind was filled with fury. Coming home hunting-knife in hand, he rushed into the bedroom, and seeing two forms in bed, without waiting to know who they were, he plunged his knife into them, and killed them.

               'Thus, without knowing it, he had killed both his father and his mother.

               'Coming out of the room he met his wife, who came to seek him to welcome him.

               '"What, you here!" he cried. "Who then are those in the bed, whom I have killed?"

               '"Killed!" replied the wife, "they were a pilgrim couple to whom I gave hospitality for love of you, because they wandered seeking a son named Giuliano." Then Giuliano knew what he had done, and was seized with penitence for his hasty yielding to suspicion and anger. So stricken with sorrow was he, he was as one dead, nor could anyone move him to speak. Then his wife came to him and said, "We will do penance together; we will lay aside ease and riches, and will devote ourselves to the poor and needy."

               'And he embraced her and said, "It is well spoken."

               'Near where they lived was a rapid river, and no bridge, and many were drowned in attempting to cross it, and many had a weary way to walk to find a bridge. Said Giuliano, "We will build a bridge over the river." And many pilgrims came to Galizia who had not where to rest. Said Giuliano, "We will build a hospice for poor pilgrims, where they may be received and be tended according to their needs, till God forgives me."

               'So they set forth, Giuliano and his wife, to go to Rome to find workmen. [5] But as they went, a troop met them, and came round them, and said to them, "Where are you going?"

               '"We go to Rome," answered Giuliano, "to find workmen to build a bridge."

               '"We are your men, we are your men; for we have built many bridges ere now." [6]

               'Then Giuliano took them back with him, and all in two days they built the bridge.

               '"How can this be?" said Giuliano's wife; "here is something that is not right," for she was so holy that she discerned the Evil One was in it.

               '"Be sure, Giuliano," she said, "there is some snare here. Take, therefore, a cheese, hard and round, and roll it along the bridge, [7] and send our dog after it; if they get across, well and good."

               'Giuliano, always prone to accept his wife's prudent counsel, did as she bid him, and rolled the cheese along the bridge, and sent the dog after it; and, see! no sooner were they in the middle of the bridge than the bridge sank in; and they knew that the Devil had built it, and that it was no bridge for Christians to go over.

               'Then said Giuliano, "God has not forgiven me yet. Now, let us build the hospice."

               'They set out, therefore, to go to Rome to find workmen to build the hospice; and when the troop of demons came round them, saying, "We are your workmen, we are your workmen!" they paid them no heed, but went on to Rome, and fetched workmen thence, and the hospice was built; and all the pilgrims who came they received, and gave them hospitality, and the whole house was full of pilgrims.

               'Then, when the house was full, quite full of pilgrims, there came an old man, and begged admission. "Good man," said Giuliano's wife, "it grieves my heart to say so, but there is not a bed, nor so much as an empty corner left;" and the old man said:

               '"If ye cannot receive me, it is because ye have done so much charity to me already; therefore take this staff:" so he gave them his pilgrim's staff, and went his way.

               'But it was Jesus Christ who came in the semblance of that old man; and when Giuliano took the staff, behold three flowers blossomed on it, and he said:

               '"See! God has forgiven me!"'


Now I see this story in type I am inclined to think it is not strictly traditional, like the rest; but that the narrator had acquired it from one of the rimed legends mentioned at p. vii.


[1] 'Discolo,' 'wild,' 'fast.'

[2] The shrine of S. Iago di Compostella being traditionally known to the Roman poor as 'S. Giacomo di Galizia,' Galizia was not very unnaturally supposed by the narrator to be the name of a town.

[3]   'Dovene siete, poveri pellegrini,         
Quanti son' lunghi i vostri cammini?'

[4]   'Avemo camminati monti e piani,         
E siamo di Castello mont' Albano,         
Andiamo cercando un figlio Giuliano.'

               A walled village, whether it had an actual castle or not, had the name of 'Castello;' and 'Castello' is the common name to the present day in Rome for the villages in the neighbourhood.

[5] 'Mastri.'

[6]   'Noi siamo i mastri! noi siamo i mastri!         
Chè tanti ponti abbiamo fatti.'

[7] 'Arruzzicatelo' was the word used. Ruzzica is a game played by rolling circles of wood of a certain thickness along a smooth alley. She tells him to roll the cheese in this way as an inducement to the dog to go over to try the strength of the bridge.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Penance of San Giuliano, The
Tale Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel Harriette
Book Title: Roman Legends: A Collection of the Fables and Folk-lore of Rome
Book Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel Harriette
Publisher: Estes and Lauriat
Publication City: Boston
Year of Publication: 1877
Country of Origin: Italy
Classification: unclassified

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