- For the Lithuanian saint, see Eustace of Vilnius.
Saint Eustace, also known as Eustachius or Eustathius, was a legendary Christian Martyr who lived in the 2nd century AD. A martyr of that name is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church, which, however, judges that the legend recounted about him is "completely fabulous. For that reason removed from the Roman Catholic calendar of saints to be commemorated liturgically worldwide on the former feast of "Saint Eustace and Companions".
Prior to his conversion to Christianity, he was a Roman
general named Placidus, who served the emperor Trajan
. While hunting a stag in Tivoli
near Rome, Placidus saw a vision of Jesus
between the stag's antlers. He was immediately converted, had himself and his family baptized
, and changed his name to Eustace (meaning "good fortune" or "fruitful"). 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; and as Eustace crossed a river with his two sons, 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; but 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
, in the year AD 118.
Veneration and Diffusion of Cult
The story was popularized in Jacobus de Voragine
's "Golden Legend"
(c. 1260). Eustace became known as a patron saint
of hunters, and also of anyone facing adversity; he was traditionally included among the Fourteen Holy Helpers
As with many early saints, there is little evidence for Eustace's existence; elements of his story have been attributed to other saints (notably the Belgian Saint Hubert).
St Eustace's feast day in the Roman Catholic Church was September 20. In addition, Saint Eustace and his companions were included in the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints who were to be commemorated wherever the Roman Rite is celebrated, but that commemoration was removed in 1969 because, in view of the fabulous character of his "Passio," scarcely anything is known of the saint. Traditional Roman Catholics continue to celebrate the feast of "St Eustace and Companions, Martyrs" on September 20. Many Roman Catholics worldwide still venerate Saint Eustace and the Fourteen Holy Helpers overall.
Patronage and cultural references
He is one of the patron saints
. Scenes from the story, especially Eustace kneeling before the stag, became a popular subject of medieval
religious art. Early artistic depictions of the legend include a wall painting at Canterbury Cathedral
and stained glass
windows at the Cathedral of Chartres
. There is a Church of Saint Eustace
, and the island of Sint Eustatius
in the Netherlands Antilles
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 English author Russell Hoban, incorporate the legend into their plot.