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Saint Eustace


Saint Eustace

For the Lithuanian saint, see Eustace of Vilnius.
For the abbot of Luxeuil, see Eustace of Luxeuil.
Saint Eustace and companions
Greek Orthodox icon of St. Eustathios
Died 118 AD
Venerated in Anglican Church; Roman Catholic Church; Eastern Orthodox Church
Feast September 20 (Western Christianity, Eastern Orthodoxy)
Attributes bull; crucifix; horn; stag; oven
Patronage against fire; difficult situations; fire prevention; firefighters; hunters; hunting; huntsmen; Madrid; torture victims; trappers

Saint Eustace, also known as Eustachius or Eustathius in Latin[1] or St. Esthak in India, is revered as a Christian martyr and soldier saint. Legend places him in the 2nd century AD. A martyr of that name is venerated as a saint in the Anglican Church.[2] He is commemorated by the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church on September 20.


  • Biography 1
  • Variants 2
  • Diffusion of his veneration 3
  • Patronage 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Sources 7
  • Gallery 8
  • External links 9


According to legend,[3] prior to his conversion to Christianity, Eustace was a Roman general named Placidus, who served the emperor Trajan. While hunting a stag in Tivoli near Rome, Placidus saw a vision of a crucifix lodged between the stag's antlers.[4] He was immediately converted, had himself and his family baptized, and changed his name to Eustace (Greek: Ευστάθιος (Eustáthios), "well stable", or Ευστάχιος (Eustáchios), "fruitful/rich grain").

A series of calamities followed to test his faith: his wealth was stolen; his servants died of a plague; when the family took a sea-voyage, the ship's captain kidnapped Eustace's wife Theopista; and as Eustace crossed a river with his two sons Agapius and Theopistus, the children were taken away by a wolf and a lion. Like Job, Eustace lamented but did not lose his faith.

He was then quickly restored to his former prestige and reunited with his family. There is a tradition that when he demonstrated his new faith by refusing to make a pagan sacrifice, the emperor Hadrian condemned Eustace, his wife, and his sons to be roasted to death inside a bronze statue of a bull or an ox,[5] in the year AD 118. However, the Catholic Church rejects this story as "completely false" [6]


The opening part of this legend, up to the martyrdom, is a variant of a popular tale in chivalric romance: "the Man Tried By Fate".[7] Except for an exemplum in Gesta Romanorum, all such tales are highly developed romances, such as Sir Isumbras.[8] A distant Indian origin for elements in the Eustace legend has been presented.[9]

Diffusion of his veneration

In an unusually early image, Eustace accompanies Harbaville Triptych (Louvre Museum).
Medieval Reliquary of St. Eustace from the cathedral at Basle, Switzerland, now in the British Museum.

The veneration of Eustace originated in the Byzantine church; in the West an early-medieval church dedicated to him that existed at Rome is mentioned in a letter of Pope Gregory II.[10] His iconography may have passed to the 12th-century West− before which European examples are scarce− in psalters, where the vision of Eustace, kneeling before the stag, illustrated Psalm 96, ii-12: "Light is risen to the just..."[11] An early depiction of Eustace, the earliest one noted in the Duchy of Burgundy, is carved on a Romanesque capital at Vézelay Abbey.[12] Abbot Suger mentions the first relics of Eustace in Europe, at an altar in the royal Basilica of St Denis;[13] Philip Augustus of France rededicated the church of Saint Agnès, Paris, which became Saint-Eustache (rebuilt in the 16th-17th centuries). The story of Eustace was popularized in Jacobus de Voragine's "Golden Legend" (c. 1260). Scenes from the story, especially of Eustace kneeling before the stag, then became popular subjects of medieval religious art: examples include a wall painting at Canterbury Cathedral and stained glass windows at the Cathedral of Chartres.

As with many early saints, there is no evidence for Eustace's existence, even as a martyr.[14] Elements of his story have been re-attributed to other saints, notably the Belgian Saint Hubert.

Saint Eustace's feast day in the Roman Catholic Church is September 20, as is indicated in the Roman Martyrology.[15] The celebration of Saint Eustace and his companions was included in the Roman Calendar from the twelfth century until 1969, when it was removed because of the completely fabulous character of the saint's Acta,[15][16] resulting in a lack of sure knowledge about them. However, his feast is still observed by Roman Catholics who follow the pre-1970 Roman Calendar.


Eustace became known as a patron saint of hunters and firefighters, and also of anyone facing adversity; he was traditionally included among the Fourteen Holy Helpers.[17] He is one of the patron saints of Madrid, Spain. The island of Sint Eustatius in the Caribbean Netherlands is named after him.

The D'Afflitto, one of the oldest princely families in Italy, claims to be direct descendants of Saint Eustace.

The novels "The Herb of Grace" (US title: Pilgrim's Inn) (1948) by British author Elizabeth Goudge, and Riddley Walker (1980) by American author Russell Hoban, incorporate the legend into their plot. It has also inspired the film Imagination.

The saint's cross-and-stag symbol is featured on bottles of Jägermeister. This is related to his status as patron of hunters; jägermeisters were senior foresters and gamekeepers in the German civil service until 1934, prior to the drink's introduction in 1935.

Saint Eustace has a church dedicated to him in the southern part of India, in a village named Mittatharkulam, near Tiruneveli district in Tamil Nadu. He is called Saint Esthak in this part of the world.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Eustace's Vita is edited in the Acta Sanctorum, September 6:124.
  4. ^ The image of the crucifix lodged between the antlers of a stag and its justification in a hunting episode were later transferred to the hagiography of Saint Hubertus (first Bishop of Liège).
  5. ^ "Saints & Martyrs", Columbia University
  6. ^ "Martyrologium Romanum" (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2001 ISBN 88-209-7210-7)
  7. ^ Laura A. Hibbard, Medieval Romance in England p5 (New York: Burt Franklin) 1963
  8. ^ Hibbard, p.3.
  9. ^ Engels, O., "Die hagiographischen texte der Papst Gelasius II' in der Überlieferung der Eustachius-, Erasmus- und Hypolistuslegende", Historisches Jahrbuch 76 (1956, noted by Ambrose 2006.
  10. ^ Krautheimer, R., Corpus basilicarum christianarum Romae (1940) vol. I:216f and Krautheimer, Rome: Profile of a City 1980:80f, 252, 271.
  11. ^ Kirk Thomas Ambrose, The Nave Sculpture of Vézelay: The Art of Monastic Viewing (Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies) 2006:45 gives examples.
  12. ^ Ambrose 2006:45.
  13. ^ The Eustace venerated at Saint-Denis may have been Eustace of Luxeuil, the second abbot of Luxueil, from 611.
  14. ^ Hibbard, p.4.
  15. ^ a b "Martyrologium Romanum" (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2001 ISBN 88-209-7210-7)
  16. ^ "Calendarium Romanum" (Libreria Editrice Vaticana), p. 139
  17. ^ Newton, William. "St. Eustace", Victoria and Albert Museum


  • Hibbard, Laura A., Medieval Romance in England, New York, Burt Franklin, 1963


External links

  • Patron Saints: Saint Eustachius
  • Here Followeth the Life of St. Eustace in Caxton's translation of the Golden Legend
  • Saint Eustace at the Christian Iconography web site
  • The 'Life of St Eustace' window at Chartres Cathedral
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