Thursday, September 20, 2012

St. Eustace: Hagiography Gone Stag

Saint-Eustache, Paris.
From the Martyrology for September 20:

At Rome, the passion of the holy martyrs, Eustace, Theopistis, his wife, and their two sons, Agapitus and Theopistus.  They were condemned to the wild beasts in the time of the Emperor Hadrian, but by the power of God, they were unharmed.  They were then enclosed in a red hot brazen bull and so completed their martyrdom.

In the traditional calendar, today is the feast of St. Eustace, whom The Golden Legend tells us was a Roman general who was converted when he saw Christ between the horns of a stag while on a hunt.  That vision, coupled with the manner of the death he shared with his wife and sons led him to be counted as a patron of both hunters and firefighters.  

Modern sensibility got Eustace dinged from the Universal Calendar in 1969, when people began to worry about whether the material in The Golden Legend was true.  (As we know, beauty took a beating from truth in those days.)  

Whatever the details of his life, his cultus has left us one of Paris's most beautiful churches.  I first visited Saint-Eustache as an undergraduate in the summer of 1990, when I remember it as being wonderfully grungy.  I snapped these pictures in the summer of 2008, when the church was in the process of a major restoration, which I know is necessary, but seems to have stripped away some of its charm.  Then again, charm is much easier to come by at 21.