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Saint Eustace, also known as Eustachius or Eustathius in Latin,[1] 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 Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church on September 20.

Saint Eustace and companions
Evstafi Plakida.jpg
Greek Orthodox icon of St. Eustathios
Died118 AD
Venerated inAnglican Church; Roman Catholic Church; Eastern Orthodox Church; Oriental Orthodoxy
FeastSeptember 20 (Western Christianity, Byzantine Christianity)
Thout 22 (Coptic Christianity)
AttributesChristian Martyrdom, bull; crucifix; horn; stag; oven
Patronageagainst fire; difficult situations; fire prevention; firefighters; hunters; hunting; huntsmen; Madrid; torture victims; trappers


According to tradition,[3] prior to his conversion to Christianity Eustace was a Roman general named Placidus, who served the emperor Trajan. While hunting a stag 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: Εὐστάθιος Eustathios "well standing, stable, steadfast" (cf. Constans, Constantius, Constantinus), or Εὐστάχιος Eustachios (< εὔσταχυς eustachys) "fruitful, richly grained").

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. Saint Eustace's commemoration was removed from the General Roman Calendar in 1970, though he continued to be commemorated in the latest edition of the Roman Martyrology.[6] Local observance is still practiced.[7]


The opening part of this tradition, up to St. Eustace's martyrdom, is a variant of a popular tale in chivalric romance: "the Man Tried By Fate".[8] Except for an exemplum in Gesta Romanorum,[9] all such tales are highly developed romances, such as Sir Isumbras.[10] A distant Indian origin for elements in the Eustace legend has been proposed.[11]

Diffusion of his venerationEdit

In an unusually early image, Eustace accompanies Saint George on a 10th-century Byzantine ivory Harbaville Triptych (Louvre Museum).
Medieval Reliquary of St. Eustace from the cathedral at Basel, Switzerland, now in the British Museum.

The veneration of Eustace originated in the Eastern Orthodox Church wherein he is venerated as Saint Eustathios the Great Martyr (Greek: Ἅγιος Εὐστάθιος ὁ Μεγαλομάρτυς). N. Thierry postulated that the tradition may have originated in Cappadocia, pointing out that a large repertoire of images of the Vision of Eustace exist as frescoes in this region's early-Christian rock-cut churches. Thierry also notes a 7th-century Armeno-Georgian stele at the Davit Garedja monastery in present-day Georgia with a relief depicting the Vision of Eustace, and a relief on the chancel of Tsebelda in Abkhazia, dated variously from the 7th to the 9th century, that also depicts the Vision.[12]

In Armenia, Erewmanavank ("Convent of the Holy Apparition") near Egin was said to be built on the actual location of the encounter of Placidus with the deer. The earliest surviving text detailing this is a manuscript from 1446, but the monastery is far older than that and probably a Byzantine foundation; J.-M. Thierry considers it to be a 10th-century foundation, perhaps by Greeks from Cappadocia. Although the monastery was destroyed during the Armenian Genocide, Thierry, in the 1980s, noted that a transmitted form of the legend still existed among local Muslim Kurds who talked of a "deer of light" appearing at the site.[13]

In the West, an early-medieval church dedicated to him that existed in Rome is mentioned in a letter of Pope Gregory II (731–741).[14] His iconography may have passed to the 12th-century West, before which time European examples are scarce, in psalters, where the vision of Eustace, kneeling before a stag, illustrated Psalm 96, ii-12: "Light is risen to the just..."[15]

An early depiction of Eustace, the earliest one noted in the Duchy of Burgundy, is carved on a Romanesque capital at Vézelay Abbey.[16] Abbot Suger mentions the first relics of Eustace in Europe, at an altar in the royal Basilica of St Denis;[17] 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 da Varagine'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.[18] 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, as is also in the Eastern Orthodox Church, is September 20, as indicated in the Roman Martyrology.[6] 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,[6][19] 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.

In cultureEdit

In medieval times, Saint Eustace's story was adapted into at least 10 different plays in varying forms.[20][21]

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.[22] He is one of the patron saints of Madrid, Spain. The island of Sint Eustatius in the Caribbean Netherlands is named after him.

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.[citation needed]

Saint Eustace is honored in County Kildare, Ireland. There is a church dedicated to him on the campus of Newbridge College in Newbridge, County Kildare, and the schools' logo and motto is influenced by the vision of Saint Eustace; a nearby village is named Ballymore Eustace.[citation needed]

Sant'Eustachio is also honoured in Tocco da Casauria, a town in the Province of Pescara in the Abruzzo region of central Italy. The town's church, built in the twelfth century, was dedicated to Saint Eustace. It was rebuilt after being partially destroyed by an earthquake in 1706.[23]

The German alcoholic digestif Jägermeister has a round logo of a shining cross between the antlers of a stag, referring to two saints who had seen such a vision, Hubertus and Eustace.[24][25]

In Georgian mythology, Saint Eustace became associated with the hunting deity Apsat, patron of game animals.[26]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Given name Eustace". Behind the Name. Retrieved October 29, 2015. English form of EUSTACHIUS or EUSTATHIUS, two names of Greek origin which have been conflated in the post-classical period.
  2. ^ We find on the authority of Mr. Parker in his work entitled the Calendar of the Anglican Church, and also in a work called Emblems of Saints, that St. Eustace was also sometimes represented carrying a horn (1878). The Archaeological journal. Longman, Brown, Green, and Longman. p. 281.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  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. ^ a b c "Martyrologium Romanum" (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2001 ISBN 88-209-7210-7)
  7. ^ "Roman Martyrology September, in English".
  8. ^ Laura A. Hibbard, Medieval Romance in England p5 (New York: Burt Franklin) 1963
  9. ^ Wikisource text of the Gesta Romanorum story.
  10. ^ Hibbard, p.3.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Thierry, N. "Le culte du cerf en Anatolie et la Vision de saint Eustathe" in" Monuments et mémoires de la Fondation Eugène Piot" 1991, pp. 33–100.
  13. ^ THIERRY, M., "Deux couvents gréco-arméniens sur l'Euphrate taurique", Byzantion, 61 (1991): 499–506.
  14. ^ Krautheimer, R., Corpus basilicarum christianarum Romae (1940) vol. I:216f and Krautheimer, Rome: Profile of a City 1980:80f, 252, 271.
  15. ^ Kirk Thomas Ambrose, The Nave Sculpture of Vézelay: The Art of Monastic Viewing (Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies) 2006:45 gives examples.
  16. ^ Ambrose 2006:45.
  17. ^ The Eustace venerated at Saint-Denis may have been Eustace of Luxeuil, the second abbot of Luxueil, from 611.
  18. ^ Hibbard, p.4.
  19. ^ "Calendarium Romanum" (Libreria Editrice Vaticana), p. 139
  20. ^ Muir, Lynette (July 5, 2007). Love and Conflict in Medieval Drama: The Plays and Their Legacy. Cambridge University Press. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-521-82756-0.
  21. ^ Lynette Muir (2007). Love and Conflict in Medieval Drama: The Plays and Their Legacy. Cambridge University Press. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-521-82756-0.
  22. ^ Newton, William. "St. Eustace", Victoria and Albert Museum
  23. ^
  24. ^ McLean, Ian (November 19, 2014). Double Desire: Transculturation and Indigenous Contemporary Art. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. ISBN 9781443871334.
  25. ^ Artforum International. Artforum International Magazine. 1999. The Jägermeister logo, a stag with a cross between its horns, is the symbol of St. Hubert, the patron saint of dogs and hunters. According to the legend, while hunting in the forest Hubert encountered a stag with a glowing crucifix hovering between...
  26. ^ Tuite, Kevin (2015). The institutional and vernacular cults of the military saints in the western Caucasus: Image-mediated diffusion and body shift in the cult of St Eustace in the western Caucasus (PDF). "On the Road to Paradise: Peripheral Visions, Unorthodox Iconographies," Canadian Anthropological Society. p. 4.


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


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