Saints Cyprian and Justina: The Iconography

In Nicomedia the natal day Not the birthday but the day they died and were "born again" into Heaven of the Saint Cyprian, Martyr, and St. Justina, Virgin and Martyr. Justina had suffered many torments for Christ under the Emperor Diocletian and the Prefect Eutolmius. When the magus Cyprian tried to drive her to madness with his magic arts, she converted him to the Christian faith. Then she suffered martyrdom with him. Their bodies were thrown out for the wild animals, but a Christian sailor took possession of them and carried them to Rome. Afterwards they were translated Translation is a ceremony in which the body of a saint is taken from its resting place and interred in a more appropriate church or chapel. to the Constantine Basilica This phrase usually designates the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine, in the Roman Forum, now in ruins. Cyprian and Justina's remains are currently in the baptistery next to Rome's St. John Lateran. and interred near the baptistery. Roman Martyrology for September 26

If you see a picture like the one at right, with a woman and a bishop being boiled in a cauldron, you are most likely looking at the martyrdom of Saints Cyprian and Justina of Antioch. (You can tell the man is a bishop because of the mitre on his head.)

Their story is told in the Golden Legend. Originally Cyprian was a wicked magician who enlisted a demon in his designs on the virtue of the Justina, a Christian convert. The demon kept trying, but every attempt failed when Justina would make the sign of the Cross. The devil had to admit to Cyprian that "the crucified God" was stronger than he, so Cyprian renounced his relationship with the devil and became a Christian himself. Eventually he was made the bishop of Antioch.

Later Cyprian and Justina came to the attention of the "earl of that country" (so Caxton; comes or "count" in the Latin sources; "prefect" in Ryan). He had them taken before him in shackles, beaten, scourged, and cast into a great cauldron of boiling pitch, wax, and tallow. When all this did not persuade them to return to the worship of the gods, they were beheaded. Their bodies were thrown to the dogs, although soon thereafter some Christian sailors took them to Rome for a proper interment.

Sometimes artists seem to confuse this St. Justina with Justina of Padua. For example, this statue's left hand holds a demon, apparently referring to the one in Justina of Antioch's story. But in the right hand is a sword, an attribute of the Paduan saint.

Prepared in 2017 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University

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A western painting of the martyrdom of Justina and Cyprian, probably 18th century (See the description page)


Orthodox icon of the two saints (See the description page)

DATES

  • Feast day (for both): September 26
  • The martyrology cited above and a vita in the Acta Sanctorum say the Emperor at the time of these saints' martyrdom was Diocletian (284-305).

NAMES

  • This St. Cyprian is not to be confused with the Cyprian invoked in the Roman Canon. The latter is St. Cyprian of Carthage.

HAGIOGRAPHY

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