February 16 — Romanos the New Martyr; Juliana of Nicomedia

Romanus the New Martyr (d. 1694) was illiterate and from Karpenisi, although those facts are unrelated. We’re pretty sure. On a pilgrimage to Jerusalem he learned about martyrdom, and decided that was the life (well, death) for him. He hastened to Thessaloniki, where he told the judge that Islam was risible, and called Muhammad names. “This ought to do it,” he thought. They tortured him a bit, then turned him over to the admiral of the fleet, thinking a spot of rowing would probably finish him off. After a short while, though, some Christians bribed the captain of his ship, and hustled him off to Mount Athos*. There he pined for martyrdom, and after his abbot had a vision (no details given), he let him go to seek his (mis)fortune.

Romanus then went to Constantinople where he adopted a stray dog, leading him around on a leash and telling anybody who asked, including the Vizier, that he fed his dog the way the Christians fed the Turks. (I don’t get it either.) He was seized and tossed into a dry well, where he fasted (somewhat involuntarily) for 40 days[1]. Seeing this didn’t work, they hauled him out and took him off to behead him. All along the way he greeted Christians he saw and joyfully told them he was going to a wedding, not an execution. They said (approximately), “Um, yeah.” After his death his body glowed for three days, then was purchased for 500 piasters (back when 500 piasters could actually buy you something) by an Englishman, who took it to (surprise!) England. A cloth soaked with his blood is kept at the Monastery of Docheiariou on the Holy Mountain*, although our sources don’t mention any miracles associated with it. “Where is he buried?” I hear you cry. If you listen closely, you’ll hear me cry the same thing.

Juliana of Nicomedia (d. ca. 304) was born of pagan parents and betrothed at a young age to Eleusius, a Roman Senator. Juliana, however, secretly converted to Christianity while nobody was looking. When it came time for her to marry Eleusius (the aforementioned senator), she refused. Thinking maybe she wanted somebody of a higher station[2], Eleusius spent a good deal of money and political capital to become governor, and pressed his suit again (it was quite wrinkly by then). Juliana demanded that he first convert to Christianity, saying, “It is impossible for our bodies to be united while our souls are at war,” which I’m sure you’ll agree is at least good poetry, and probably good theology too.

Her would-be fiancé didn’t agree, however (the philistine!), and ordered her stripped and flogged and subjected to the usual panoply of gruesome tortures[3]. After each round she was miraculously healed and strengthened for yet another[4]. Bizarrely, Eleusius apparently thought this would change her mind into marrying him[5]. After demonstrating his love in this way, Eleusius told Juliana, “Tell you what, if you marry me I’ll let you go on being a Christian and worshipping with them.” My sources do not say she rolled her eyes. Pity.

She was also taunted and tormented by the Devil, although he apparently had no desire to marry her (we are not told why). Eventually she was beheaded. She was 18. Eleusius went on to a different kind of fame when he was shipwrecked and eaten by a lion. For reasons I am completely unable to fathom, Juliana is patroness of childbirth.

[1] And nights. I’ve always wondered why it’s necessary to say “and nights” as if you could have a string of days without them.
[2] Did he think to ask her what she wanted? Oh, no.
[3] And if that doesn’t prove my love for you, I don’t know what will.
[4] Personally I’d rather just be tortured once and die and get it over with. I’d make a lousy martyr.
[5] I mean, hope springs eternal and all, but after some point you’re just being stupid, am I right?