By Martina Bollini

September 20 is the feast of Saint Eustace. Once known with the name of Placidus, he was a Roman military officer under the emperor Trajan. According to the Golden Legend, he was converted to Christianity by the vision of a stag with a crucifix between its antlers, while hunting in the forest. Hence he is regarded as the patron of hunters. 

After this vision, Placidus and his family were batptized and he took the name Eustachius. His faith was tested by a long series of adversities, which culminated with his martyrdom: one tradition holds that he and his family were burnt alive inside a bronze bull, following Eustace’s refusal to make a pagan sacrifice.

In devotional paintings, Saint Eustace is often represented either as a Roman soldier or as a Medieval knight. His story was indeed very popular during the Middle Ages, although his historical existence is not certain. For this reason, in 1969 the saint was removed from the church calendar.

Pisanello, The Vision of Saint Eustace, c. 1438-42, egg tempera on wood, London, National Gallery.

Antonio Pollaiolo, Altarpiece of the Saints Vincent, James, and Eustace, 1468, tempera on wood, Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi.

Annibale Carracci, The Vision of Saint Eustace, c. 1585-1586, oil on canvas, Naples, Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte.

Cafà Melchiorre, The martyrdom of Saint Eustace, 1659-60, terracotta, Rome, Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Venezia.

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