Images of Medieval Art and Architecture

Text from Sacred and Legendary Art
by Anna Jameson
Third Editon: London, 1911
Pages 792-4.

Saint Eustace.
In Latin, Sanctus Eustatius;
In Italian, Sant Eustachio
In French, St. Eustache
Saint's Day- September 20

St. Eustace was a Roman soldier, and captain of the guards to Emperor Trajan. His name before his conversion was Placidus, and he had a beautiful wife and two sons, and lived with great magnificence, practicing all the heathen virtue, particularly those of loyalty to his sovereign and charity to the poor, He was also a great lover of the chase, spending much of his time in that noble diversion.

One day, while hunting in the forest, he saw before him a white stag of marvelous beauty, and he pursued it eagerly, and the stag fled before him, and ascended a high rock. Then Placidus, looking up, beheld, between the horns of the stag, a cross of radiant light, and on the image of the crucified Redeemer; and being astonished and dazzled by this vision, lie fell on his knees, and a voice, which to come from the crucifix, cried to him and said Placidus ! why dost thou pursue me? I am Christ, whom thou hast hitherto served without knowing me. Dost thou now believe? And Placidus fell with his face to the earth, and said “Lord, I believe!” And the voice answered saying “Thou shalt suffer many tribulations for my sake, many temptations; but be strong and of good courage, and I will not forsake thee." To which Placidus replied, Lord, I am content. Do thou give me patience to suffer!” And when he looked up again the wondrous vision had departed. Then he arose and returned to his house, and the next day he and his wife and two sons were baptized, and he took the name of Eustace. But it happened as it was foretold to him; for all his possessions were spoiled by robbers, and pirates took away his beautiful and loving wife; and being reduced to poverty, and in deep affliction, he wandered forth with his two children, and, coming to a river swollen with torrents, he considered how lie might cross it. He took one of his children in his arms, and swam across, and having safely laid the child safely on opposite bank, he returned for the other : but just as he reached the middle of the stream, a wolf came up and h and seized on the child he had left, and ran off with it into the forest; and when he turned to his other child, behold, a lion was in the act of carrying it off! And the wretched father tore his hair, and burst into lamentations, till remembering that he had accepted of sorrow and trial, and that he was to have patience in the hour of tribulation, and prayed for resignation, he dried his tears and, coming to a village, he abode there for fifteen years, living by the labor of his hands. And at the end of that time, the Emperor Adrian being then on the throne, and requiring the services of Placidus, sent out soldiers to seek him through all the kingdoms of the earth. At length they found him, and he was restored to all his former honors, and again led his troops to victory; and the emperor loaded him with favors and riches; but his heart was sad for the loss of his wife and children. Meanwhile, his sons had been rescued from the jaws of the wild beasts, and his wife had had escaped from the pirates; and, after many years they met and recognized each other, and were reunited; and Eustace said in his “Surely a11 my tribulation is at an end ! " But it was not so; for the Emperor Adrian commanded a great sacrifice to his false gods, in consequence of a victory he had gained over the Barbarians. St. Eustace and his family refused to offer incense, remaining steadfast in the Christian Faith. Whereupon the emperor ordered tat they should be shut up in a brazen bull; and a fire was kindled under it, and thus they perished together”

There is nothing in this legendary romance to recommend it, but it has been popular since the earliest times, and is constantly met with in Art.

In the devotional pictures, St. Eustace is represented either as a Roman soldier or armed as a knight. Near him is the miraculous stag....

The ‘Conversion of St. Eustace’ is only distinguished form the legend of St. Hubert by the classical or warrior costume. The martyrdom of St. Eustace and his family in a brazen bull I have frequently met with; and a series of subjects from this legend is often found in the stained glass and sculpture of the old French cathedrals (Note: St. Eustace has been banished form the English Calendar; there are, however, three churches in England dedicated to his name.)

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Updated by Jane Vadnal, September, 1998