Saint Martyrs Julitta (Giulietta, Julietta) and Cyricus (Kirik, Cyr, Cyriacus, Quiriac, Quiricus) mother and son of Tarsus

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July 28th (July 15th old calendar)


Although the legend of Julitta and Cyricus was proscribed by pseudo-Gelasius, it still persists in various forms. We are told that when persecution was raging against Christians under Diocletian (284-305), a wealthy and pious noblewoman named Julitta was widowed with a three-year-old son named Cyricus. As a Christian Julitta decided that life in her native Iconium in Lycaonia was too dangerous.

Taking Cyricus and two maids, she fled to Seleucia and to her alarm found that the governor there, Alexander, was savagely persecuting Christians. The four fugitives journeyed on to Tarsus in Antioch. Unfortunately, Alexander was paying a visit to that city when the fugitives were recognized and arrested.

Julitta was put on trial. She brought her young son with her to the courtroom. She refused to answer any questions about herself, except to say that she was a Christian. The court pronounced its sentence: Julitta was to be stretched on the rack and then beaten.

The guards, about to lead Julitta away, separated Cyricus from his mother. The child was crying, and Alexander, in a vain attempt to pacify him, took Cyricus on his knee. Terrified and longing to run back to his mother, Cyricus kicked the governor and scratched his face. Alexander stood up in a rage and flung the toddler down the steps of the tribune, fracturing the boy's skull and killing him.

Cyricus's mother did not weep. Instead she thanked God and went cheerfully to torture and death. Her son had been granted the crown of martyrdom. This made the governor even angrier. He decreed that her sides should be ripped apart with hooks, and then she was beheaded. Both she and Cyricus were flung outside the city, on the heap of bodies belonging to criminals, but the two maids rescued the corpses of the mother and child and buried them in a nearby field.

There is some evidence for an otherwise unknown child-martyr named Cyricus at Antioch, and it may have been about him that this fictitious tale was evolved in several different versions. There are places named after Cyricus all over Europe and the Middle East, but without the name Julitta attached. As early as the sixth century the acta of Cyricus and Julitta were rejected in a list of apocryphal documents (the list was formerly attributed to Pope Saint Gelasius I).

Cyricus is the Saint-Cyr found in several French place names, where his cultus is strong because some relics were brought back from Antioch by the 4th-century Bishop Saint Amator of Auxerre. A Nivernaise story that is reproduced in the Golden Legend also fuels the flames of devotion. According to this tale, Blessed Charlemagne dreamed he was saved from death by a wild boar during a hunt by the appearance of a child, who promised to save him from death if he would give him clothes to cover his nakedness. The bishop of Nevers interpreted this to mean that he wanted the emperor to repair the roof of the cathedral dedicated to Saint Cyr. From this story comes the iconographic emblem of a naked child riding on a wild boar (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Encyclopedia, Farmer, Husenbeth).

The relics of Saints Kyrikos and Julitta were discovered during the reign of holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Constantine (+ 337, Comm. 21 May). In honour of these holy martyrs there was built near Constantinople a monastery, and not far off from Jerusalem was built a church. In popular custom, Saints Kyrikos and Julitta are prayed to for family happiness, and the restoring to health of sick children.