Gesta Romanorum Vol. I (1871)/Of venial Sin

Gesta Romanorum Vol. I  (1871) 
Anonymous, translated by Charles Swan
Of venial Sin



A certain soldier, called Julian, unwittingly killed his parents. For being of noble birth, and addicted, as youth frequently is, to the sports of the field, a stag which he hotly pursued, suddenly turned round, and addressed him; "Thou who pursuest me so fiercely, shalt be the destruction of thy parents." These words greatly alarmed Julian, who feared their accomplishment even while he disavowed the possibility. Leaving, therefore, his amusement, he went privately into a distant country, and enrolled himself in the bands of a certain chieftain. His conduct, as well in war as in peace, merited so highly from the prince he served, that he created him a knight, and gave him the widow of a castellan (17) in marriage, with her castle as a dowry.

All this while, the parents of Julian bewailed the departure of their son, and diligently sought for him in all places. At length they arrived at the castle, and in Julian's absence were introduced to his wife, who asked them what they were. They communicated without reserve, the occasion of their search, and their sorrow for an only child. Convinced by this explanation that they were her husband's parents, (for he had often conversed with her about them, and detailed the strange occurrence which induced him to flee his country) she received them very kindly; and in consideration of the love she bore her husband, put them into her own bed, and commanded another to be prepared elsewhere for herself. Now early in the morning, the lady castellan went to her devotions. In the mean time Julian returning home, hastened, according to custom, to the chamber of his wife, imagining that she had not yet risen. Fearful of awaking her, he softly entered the apartment, and perceiving two persons in bed, instantly concluded that his wife was disloyal. Without a moment's pause, he unsheathed his sabre, and slew both. Then in the greatest agitation and bitterness of heart, he hurried from the chamber, and accidentally took the direction in which the church lay, and by which his wife had proceeded not long before. On the threshold of the sacred building he distinguished her, and struck with the utmost amazement, enquired whom they were that had taken possession of his bed. She replied, that they were his parents; who after long and wearisome search in pursuit of him, arrived at his castle the last evening. The intelligence was as a thunderbolt to Julian; and unable to contain himself he burst into an agony of tears. "Oh!" he exclaimed, "lives there in the world so forlorn a wretch as I am? This accursed hand has murdered my parents, and fulfilled the horrible prediction, which I have struggled to avoid. Dearest wife, pardon my fatal suspicions, and receive my last farewell; for never will I know rest, until I am satisfied that God has forgiven me." His wife answered, "Wilt thou abandon me then, my beloved, and leave me alone and widowed? No—I have been the participator of thy happiness, and now will participate thy grief." Julian opposed not, and they departed together towards a large river, that flowed at no great distance; and where, from the rapidity and depth of the waters, many had perished. In this place they built and endowed a hospital, where they abode in the truest contrition of heart. Now all who had occasion to pass that river constantly visited them, and great numbers of poor people were received within the place. Many years glided by, and, at last, on a very cold night, about the mid-hour, as Julian slept, overpowered with fatigue, a lamentable voice seemed to call his name. He instantly got up, and found a man covered with the leprosy, perishing for very cold. He brought him into the house, and lighted a fire to warm him; but he could not be made warm. That he might omit no possible means of cherishing the leper, he carried him into his own bed, and endeavoured by the heat of his body to restore him. After a while, he who seemed sick, and cold, and leprous, appeared enveloped in an immortal splendour: and waving his light wings, seemed ready to mount up into heaven. Turning a look of the utmost benignity upon his wondering host, he said, "Julian, the Lord hath sent me to thee, to announce the acceptance of thy contrition. Before long both thou and thy partner will sleep in the Lord." So saying, the angelic messenger disappeared. Julian and his wife, after a short time fully occupied in good works, died in peace. (18)


My beloved, the knight Julian is any good Christian prelate, who ought manfully to war against the devil, the world, and the flesh; and to hunt,—that is, to acquire souls for the service of God. He should flee from the world, and he will then receive the lady Castellan in marriage—that is, divine grace. The parents are the vanities of this life, which pursue a man everywhere: these parents must be slain with the sabre of repentance. The river is the Holy Scriptures; and the hospital by its side, is prayer, fasting, and alms-giving.



Note 17[1].Page 92.

"The widow of a Castellan."

The Castellan was a military guardian of a castle; and of the same dignity as the viscount. See Ducange.

Note 18.Page 96.

"This story is told in Caxton's Golden Legende[2], and in the Metrical Lives of the Saints. Hence Julian, or Saint Julian, was called hospitator, or the gode herberjour; and the Pater Noster became famous, which he used to say for the souls of his father and mother whom he had thus unfortunately killed. The peculiar excellencies of this prayer are displayed by Boccace. Chaucer, speaking of the hospitable disposition of his Frankelein, says—

"Saint Julian he was in his own countre[3].

"This history is, like the last, related by our compilers in the words of Julian's Legend, as it stands in Jacobus de Voragine. Bollandus has inserted Antoninus's account of this saint, which appears also to be literally the same. It is told, yet not exactly in the same words, by Vincent of Beauvais."—Warton.

The passage in Boccacio, above alluded to, is as follows:

"Falling from one discourse to another, they began to talk of such prayers as men (in journey) use to salute God with all: and one of the thieves (they being three in number) spake thus to Rinaldo. Sir, let it be no offence that I desire to know, what prayer you most use when you travel on the way? Whereto Rinaldo replied in this manner. To tell you true, sir, I am a man gross enough in such divine matters, as meddling more with merchandize, than I do with books. Nevertheless, at all times, when I am thus in journey, in the morning before I depart my chamber, I say a Pater Noster and an Ave Maria for the souls of the father and mother of St. Julian; and after that, I pray God and St. Julian to send me a good lodging at night. And let me tell you, sir, that very oftentimes heretofore, I have met with many great dangers upon the way, from all which I escaped, and evermore (when night drew on) I came to an exceeding good lodging. Which makes me believe that Saint Julian (in honour of whom I speak it) hath begged of God such great grace for me: and methinks, that if any day I should fail of this prayer in the morning, I cannot travel securely, nor come to a good lodging. No doubt then, sir, (quoth the other) but you have said that prayer this morning? I would be sorry else; said Rinaldo, such an especial matter is not to be neglected." First Day, Novel II. 164.

  1. This notation is an error of the Press.
  2. "Fol. 90. ed. 1493."—Warton. There were a great many Saints of this name. "Of this Saynt Julyen some saye this is he that pylgryms and wayfarying men call and requyre for good herborowe, because our Lorde was lodged in his hous. But it seemeth better that it is he yt slewe his fader and moder ignorantly, of whome the hystory is hereafter." Cax. Golden Leg. fol. 85, ed. 1527.
  3. Prol. v 342.