Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Island and Basilica of St Julius

On both calendars of the Roman Rite, today is the feast of St John Bosco, who was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1934, and added to the general calendar very shortly thereafter. However, his feast was not added to the Ambrosian Rite calendar until the promulgation of the post-Conciliar reforms; January 31st is traditionally the feast day of St Julius, a priest and confessor of the later 4th century. He is said to have been a Greek from the island of Aegina, who together with his brother Julian migrated to northern Italy in the days of the Emperor Theodosius I (379-95), and set about evangelizing the region. After they had built 99 churches in various places, Julius chose as the place for the 100th church an island in the middle of the Lago d’Orta, a lake near Novara in the Piedmont region. Unable to find anyone to take him to the island, which was infested with serpents, he spread his cloak on the waters and used it as a boat; upon reaching the island, he drove away the serpents, and established his church.

The Island of St Julius (Isola di San Giulio) in the Lado d'Orta. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Luca Casartelli)
Modern archeological research has in fact confirmed that a church was built in very ancient times on the island in the same place where a large basilica now stands dedicated to St Julius; he is also mentioned by the 8th century historian of the Lombards, Paul the Deacon. The current building dates from the 12th century, but has of course undergone numerous changes since then. Of particular interest within it are the pulpit, also of the 12th century, decorated with the symbols of the Evangelists, and some frescos of the late 15th century. I thought it would be nice to share these pictures, since Nicola found some old postcards with images of the island and the church.

The Basilica of St Julius (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Rollopack)
An old postcard showing the island from the other side.

An old postcard of the pulpit.
The bull symbolizing St Luke the Evangelist. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Wolfgang Sauber.)

Decorations on the reverse of the pulpit, a centaur, a deer attacked by two wild animals, and a vegetable pattern. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by the Fondo Paolo Monti, 1965)

Another old postcard showing the Baroque interior of the church and the pulpit.

The relics of St Julius in the crypt chapel.

A clearer view (Image from Wikimedia Commons by BMK Wikimedia , CC BY-SA 3.0 license)
A 15th century fresco of the Trinity, with stories from the life of St Julius below. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Laurom)
The Doctors of the Church, attributed to Tommaso Cagnola, late 15th century (This and the following image from Wikimedia Commons by Wolfgang Sauber.)
The Nativity of Christ, also attributed to Cagnola.

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