June 21, 2018

About the Holy Martyrs Julian and Basilissa of Egypt

5th century fresco, Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, Rome;
the adults shown are St. Julian (half-seen on the left), St. Marcianilla (center), and
St. Basilissa. The boy is Marcianilla's son, St. Celsus, chained to St. Julian.

There are two pairs of saints that have come down to us as Julian and Basilissa, and probably based on the same people. One pair is celebrated on January 8th and the other on June 21st. The reason they can be identified as the same pair is because they are both commemorated with three other martyrs named Celsus, Anastasios and Anthony, and the resemblances are too close to deny.

On January 8th Julian and Basilissa are a married couple who decide to dedicate their lives to Christ as virgins and each go off to monasteries in Egypt. Julian becomes an abbot over twelve thousand monks. Basilissa, after having stood severe persecutions, dies in peace; Julian survives her many years, but is martyred by beheading, (together with Celsus a young soldier and son of the ruler and persecutor, Anthony a priest, Anastasios who was raised from the dead, and Marcianilla the mother of Celsus) during the persecution of Diocletian.

6th century mosaic, Euphrasian Basilica, Poreč, Croatia;  St. Basilissa

On June 21st Julian is an abbot over ten thousand monks while Basilissa is the mother of Celsus, and Celsus helps to convert his mother to Christianity, when she is baptized by Anthony the priest. Basilissa is also the wife of the ruler in Egypt and persecutor, and Celsus is a young soldier and son of the ruler. Anastasios is raised from the dead by Julian. All of the above die as martyrs by beheading during the persecution of Diocletian.

The conflict in the above accounts is primarily with the figure of Basilissa, whether or not she was married to Julian or to the ruler in Egypt, whether or not she was the mother of Celsus, and whether or not she was martyred. Most of the other parts can be mended together. But it is the differences that have given them the two feast days, on one day commemorating Julian and Basilissa who were married and one dies as a martyr while the other dies in peace, and on the other day commemorating Julian the abbot and Basilissa the mother of Celsus and wife of the ruler who converts and is baptized and martyred. These differences may be accounted for either by copying errors in manuscripts or the handing down of different traditions in different local churches, hence the fact that two different feasts arose to celebrate them.