The life of the legendary medieval penitent and saint, retold with style and elegance by Wangerin (The Crying for a Vision, 1994, etc.).
Julian’s origins are so dubious that he isn’t on the calendar—yet his cult is so popular (he’s the patron saint of ferrymen, among others) that there are thousands of churches dedicated to him throughout of Europe (St. Julien-le-Pauvre in Paris may be the most famous). Flaubert wrote a famous story about him (“The Legend of St. Julian Hospitater” [sic]), and now Wangerin has taken up the legend, speaking through the mouth of an elderly priest in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere who has decided to write an account of the saint. The son of a nobleman, Julian worked wonders before he was even in the cradle (the touch of his infant tears saved his mother from death during his delivery), and from his earliest days he combined the fervor of a saint with the courage of a soldier. The combination was not as harmonious as it may sound: Julian’s passion for warfare was such that a kind of blood lust would sometimes come over him and he would hunt secretly at night for the sheer joy of killing his prey. When a stag, dying from one of Julian’s blows, spoke to him and told him that he would one day kill his own parents, Julian was overcome with shame and ran away from home in remorse and terror. Eventually, the stag’s prophecy (and worse) comes to pass, and Julian tries to atone through a life of penitence in service to the poor. He builds a hospice for the sick and provides shelter for pilgrims and wanderers. His salvation comes when he takes in a miserable leper who, turning out to be Christ in disguise, embraces Julian and bears his soul to heaven.
An exquisite rendering of the ancient tale, with none of the anachronistic ironies that such updatings too often contain.