Almost certainly an entirely mythical saint, who was falsely associated with one or more genuine saints of this name. He has no date, no country, no tomb: his feast on 29 January in the Acta Sanctorum seems an arbitrary date. But seven ancient English churches were dedicated to him besides others elsewhere; there are important cycles of his Legend in the 13th-century stained glass at both Chartres and Rouen besides notable paintings elsewhere in the later Middle Ages, especially in Flanders; Wiggenhall St Mary Magdalen (Norfolk) has a stained-glass picture of him and Suffield (Norfolk) a screen-painting. His story was widely diffused in the Golden Legend of James of Voragine, in the sermons of Antoninus of Florence, and in the 19th century by Gustave Flaubert in one of his Trois Contes. It is, however, found even earlier in the works of Vincent of Beauvais (13th century).
According to this romance he was a young nobleman who, when hunting, came upon a hart which said to him: ‘You are hunting me and you will kill your father and your mother.’ To avoid such a terrible destiny he went to a far country and served the king so well that he was knighted and given a rich widow in marriage with a castle for her dowry. Later his father and mother went to find him, but he was out; his wife gave them her own bed to sleep in. Next day her husband returned while his wife was at church, entered his bedroom, and found a man and a woman asleep there. He jumped to the conclusion that his wife was committing adultery and killed both of them in the bed. He then went out and met his wife coming home from church. Struck with grief and remorse he left that country, came with his wife to an important river-crossing and built a hospital for the poor. Like Christopher he also acted as a guide for travellers to cross the river. Once, at midnight, he heard cries for help, rescued a traveller half-dead with cold and placed him in his own bed. Later this man, who seemed to be a leper, died; Julian saw him go to heaven, saying: ‘Julian, our Lord sent me here and tells you that he has accepted your penance.’ Soon afterwards Julian and his wife died. Many hospitals were dedicated to him, especially in the Netherlands; he was the patron of innkeepers, boatmen, and travellers; trade guilds were partly responsible for the works of art which honour him.
B. de Gaiffier, ‘La Légende de S. Julien l'Hospitalier’, Anal. Boll., lxiii (1945), 144–219; G. Flaubert, La légende de S. Julien l'Hospitalier (1874); A. M. Gossez, Le Saint Julien de Flaubert (1903); M. Oberziner, La leggenda si S. Giuliano il Parricida (1933); B.T.A., i. 314–16; Réau, ii. 766–9.