Martyrdom, Motherhood, and the Aetiology of Infanticide: The Legend of Saints Quiricus and Julitta in Early Iberian Art and Literature


The legend of Saints Quiricus and Julitta circulated in two different forms. The oldest, the Acta apocrypha, offers an implausible account of martyrdom, depicting the soon-to-be-three-year-old Quiricus as a militantly loquacious evangelizer, and his mother, Julitta, as an avid and enthusiastic disciple. This is the source preferred by early Iberian artworks. Conversely, the accounts descended from a fifth-century epistle composed by Theodore of Mopsuestia depict the saints in an entirely different light. In this version Julitta becomes the centre of narrative interest while Quiricus is reimagined as a figure at a pre-linguistic stage of development. This is the source favoured by medieval Iberian prose accounts. The distinction between the two branches raises questions concerning the relationship between orthodoxy and heterodoxy as well as the specific individual qualities of art and literature. This article argues that critical positions that fail to account for the influence of differing narrative forms will reveal only a small and potentially misleading part of the fuller picture. It becomes important in view of this to adopt a more holistic and nuanced approach towards questions of interpretation, reaching across traditional disciplinary boundaries so as to gain an insight into the richness and complexity of medieval production.


St Quiricus; St Julitta; Acta apocrypha; Theodore of Mopsuestia; Legenda aurea; Durro Antependium; Gran flos sanctorum; hagiography; torture; martyrdom; medieval children; infanticide; Massacre of the Innocents; Rachel; Maccabean mother; grief; lamentatio

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