Nothing is known about the life of saint martyr Juliana of Heliopolis. The only source of information about her sufferings and death is the “Life of Great Martyr Barbara”. According to legend, the father of St. Barbara went furious after he had found out that his daughter was a Christian. He brutally beat the girl and took her to the city of Heliopolis (in today’s Syria) to hand her over to the city governor for punishment. After the girl refused to make sacrifice to pagan gods, the governor ordered to have her stripped and tortured publicly. In the night Christ appeared to saint Barbara in prison and healed her wounds. Saint Juliana witnessed the torture and the miraculous healing of Barbara. She cried as she saw Barbara being subjected to new torture. Having found out that Juliana was also a Christian, the governor ordered to seize her and torture together with Saint Barbara. After he realized that the women wouldn’t deny Christ, he ordered to behead them.
The bodies of Sts. Barbara and Juliana were buried by a virtuous man. Soon thereafter, the relics of the saints began to heal people from leprosy. On this site a church and a monastery were later built.
Various redactions of her life indicate different dates of the saints’ martyrdom, but the commonly accepted date is 306 AD.
In Byzantine and medieval Russian art St. Juliana of Heliopolis is portrayed as a martyr with a cross in her hand. One of the earliest examples is a depiction of the saint on the reverse side of the Theotokos of the Sign icon dated to the first half of the 13th century, presently held in Moscow’s State Tretyakov Gallery. It is not clear though, whether this is the right Juliana since there are several martyrs carrying this name. Besides, the saint is often portrayed along with other saint women, such as the icon of “Selected saints: Paraskeva, Barbara and Juliana” dated to the late 14th – early 15th centuries, also from the State Tretyakov Gallery collection.
The feast day of Juliana of Heliopolis is celebrated on December 17th (December 4th in the old style).
Zhanna G. Belik,
Ph.D. in Art history, senior research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum, custodian of the tempera painting collection.
Olga E. Savchenko,
research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum.
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