January 8 – Julian & Vasilissa; Severinus of Noricum

Woodcut of Julian and Basilissa (Vasilissa), Ribadineira, 1649Holy Martyrs Julian and Vasilissa (d. ca. 313). Julian was born in either Antinoe in Egypt or Antioch in Syria, depending on whom you ask (one suspects a spelling error in one or another manuscript). At any rate it started with “anti,” which is appropriate as Julian was anti—which is to say opposed to—losing his virginity, hoping to go on living in his rich and well-placed parents’ basement indefinitely.

To his dismay, however, they began to seek a suitable young noblewoman for him to wed, as he was their only child and they were keen to have grandchildren. After a vision in which he was promised an equally continent bride, he consented to marry Vasilissa (or Basilissa; the two were hard to tell apart). They managed to hang on to their respective virginities, and went on to form separate monasteries and suffer and die for their faith (hence the “martyrs” tag). They left no children either physical or spiritual, for their monasteries were completely wiped out (in a most gruesome manner which I will not relate) by an overzealous governor with an overdeveloped sense of cruelty. I draw no parallels to living officials.

Engraving of Severinus of Noricum, Albrecht Dürer, 1515Severinus of Noricum (ca. 410–482) is referred to as the “Apostle to Noricum,” although it’s unclear whether anybody else applied for the position. He came from Southern Italy or North Africa or someplace down there, spent some time in the Egyptian desert (as one does), and may or may not have hung for a time with, and acted as guardian and/or spiritual advisor to, Anthony the Great (Jan 17). (He modestly doesn’t mention it, but his hagiographer did—draw your own conclusions.) At any rate he turns up in Noricum just after Atilla the “Scourge of God” Hun hung up his spurs (did Huns wear spurs? humor me).

He is thought to be noble-born because of his name (“Severe Nose”), but he was completely mum about his past, except as noted to say he had some experience in desert monasticism.

Oh wait. Before we go any further, one of my sources insists we not confuse him with Severinus of Septempeda, whose feast day is also today[1] (and who is brother to Victorinus of Camerino, who also is venerated either on this day or on June 8, d.u.w.y.a.[2]). It does not say if any calamities would attend this confusion, but I feel their request is not at all unfair, and will accede, and ask my readers to comply as well.

Noricum, I will now tell you, is an old name for an area comprising most of modern Austria and part of Slovenia (presumably the part closest to Austria).

We’re having trouble getting off the ground here. Back to our Severinus. Even with Atilla out of the picture, the proud citizens of Vienna (and environs) were not out of the woods yet (as taled by Horváth[3]), for the barbaric Goths were on their way to wreak havoc and all those other things that invaders wreak (less said, etc.). Severinus warned the Noricans, but did they listen? Oh, no. Sure enough the Goths sacked the city, whereupon there was misery and anguish and in general a lot of subpleasantness. In particular, there was a great deal of hunger, not to mention cold, it being winter and all. Fortunately Severinus knew of a rich lady who had hoarded food against this possibility, and talked her into donating it for the succor of the city.

Severinus went on to become a sort of involuntary diplomat, serving to stave off wars, unite opposing warlords, and so on. In addition to prophesying the fall of Vienna, he also foresaw Odoacer’s rise to the purple (for those of you as ignorant as I was of this history, O. became the first King of Italy, and his ascension is widely seen as the final nail in the coffin of the western Roman Empire). S. founded many monasteries (or two), and tried mightily and mostly failed to return to a quiet heremitic life after all that prophesying and miracle-working (details are thin here) and peacemaking. His remains rest in Naples.


[1] Unless it’s June 8
[2] Depending upon whom you ask
[3] If you get this joke, you’re more erudite than I was at your age.