Were today, September 20th, not a Sunday it would in the traditional calendar, and would then I suppose at least merit a commemoration, be the feast day of St Eustace or Eustachius and his family.
John Dillon posted the following piece on the Medieval Religion discussion group about the legend and iconography of this once popular but now perhaps little known saint:
Eustachius / Eustathius, Theopista, Theopistus, and Agapius (died c. 118, supposedly). Unknown to early martyrologies and with no known really ancient cult, these saints are the the subject of an extraordinarily popular romance-like Passio whose original version was thought by Delehaye to be best represented by BHG 641 (the latter or a text like it was quoted from by St. John Damascene in circa 730) and that exists in many languages other than Greek. One of those other languages is Latin: a translation into this tongue (BHL 2760), widely available from the early ninth century onward and an ancestor of numerous treatments in several "western" languages, has been assigned conjecturally to the pontificate of St. Gregory II (715-731).
According to this tale, in the reign of Trajan the Roman general Placidas (also Placidus), one of nature's noblemen, was out hunting one day when he saw a stag of surpassing beauty bearing between its horns a luminous cross with the figure of Jesus Christ. This marvelous beast announced its identity to P. as Jesus Christ, asked why it/He was being pursued, and invited P. and P.'s family to accept baptism. Which they did, P. taking the name Eustachius (also Eustathius; when he is so named modern writers sometimes distinguish him by suffixation from saintly homonyms, either as Eustathius Placidas or as Eustathius of Rome), his wife Theopista, and his sons Theopistus and Agapius (all significant names but Eustachius does NOT signify 'Good Stag').
Still according to the legend, E. became a new Job, undergoing all sorts of privations, as did also his immediate family. One of these that was important for their construction in the later Middle Ages was that they lost all their slaves and their horses and cattle to a plague; as they themselves survived, they became plague-saints. At the end of all these adventures, during which E. had been separated at different times from T., T., and A., they were reunited early in the reign of Hadrian to take part in celebrating a military victory that E. had won for the now deceased Trajan. This of course required ritual sacrifice. E. refused, he and his family were brought before Hadrian and condemned, and all four, after exposure to wild beasts had proved ineffectual, found quick death in a bronze bull made red-hot by a fire beneath it. Their miraculously unburnt bodies were buried by fellow Christians. When Constantine had ended the persecutions an oratory was built over their grave. Thus far the legend.
The earliest known dedication to E. is that of a diaconal church in Rome first attested from the time of Gregory II (715-731), a predecessor of today's basilica di Sant'Eustachio in Campo Marzio (a.k.a. Sant'Eustachio in Platana). E., T., T., and A. were entered by Usuard of Saint-Germain under November 2nd in the second edition of his martyrology; this quickly became their usual feast day in the Latin West. That feast, which had been moved to today in accordance with the long-standing practice of the Greek church (in the Synaxary of Constantinople it comes first in the feasts of September 20th), was removed from the general Roman Calendar in the latter's revision of 1969. T., T., and A. were dropped from the Roman Martyrology in its revision of 2001 (in Byzantine-rite churches they are still celebrated today along with E.); E. was retained as the saint of the aforementioned diaconal church. E. is a patron saint of (among others) Madrid, Matera (MT) in Basilicata, Acquaviva delle Fonti (TA) in Apulia, Belforte del Chienti (MC) in the Marche, and Campo di Giove (AQ) in Abruzzo.
Some period-pertinent images of E., T., T., and A.:
a) E. as depicted (with the stag) in a later ninth-century psalter from Constantinople (Paris, BnF, ms. grec 20, fol. 5v):
b) E. as portrayed in high relief (at right; at left, St. George of Lydda) on the mid-tenth-century Harbaville Triptych in the Musée du Louvre, Paris:
c) E., T., T., and A. as depicted (in the fiery bull) in the late tenth- or very early eleventh-century so-called Menologion of Basil II (Città del Vaticano, BAV, cod. Vat. gr. 1613, p. 63):
d) E., T., T., and A. as depicted (four scenes, starting with E. and the stag and ending with all four saints in the burning bull) in an illuminated eleventh-century copy of the September portion of the Metaphrastic Menologion (London, BL, MS Add 11870, fol. 151r):
e) E. as depicted (carrying one son into a river while other is taken by a lion) in one of four panels of a full-page illumination in the so-called Bible of Saint Bertin (ca. 1190-1200; Den Haag, KB, ms. 76 F 5, fol. 39r):
The legend indicates that the scene was intended to represent the loss of both sons: Eustas natorum viduatur gente suorum.
f) E., T., T., and A. as portrayed in high relief (in the fiery bull) in a late twelfth- or earlier thirteenth-century sculpture, now rather worn, on the left pillar of the left portal of south porch of the west face of the basilica cathédrale Notre-Dame in Chartres:
g) E. as portrayed in an early thirteenth-century silver-gilt head reliquary (c. 1210) formerly in the cathedral treasury at Basel and now in the British Museum, London:
This particular head has been associated with St Eustace since 1477.
The reliquary was made in Basle around 1200. The filigree on the band around the saint's head resembles the work on the shrine of Charlemagne in Aachen of 1215. The twelve figures under cusped arches on the base, probably the Apostles, are clearly of the early thirteenth century, both in the early gothic form of the architecture and the gently modelled draperies of the repeated figures formed by the same die. It may be compared with another reliquary now in the Treasury of the abbey of St Maurice d’Agaune (Switzerland).
The reliquary consists of a wooden core of head and base, carved from sycamore, which was later covered with silver plates. The wooden core and the silver covering have been kept as two separate objects since conservation in the 1950s. When the head was conserved in 1955 a number of relics were found wrapped in textiles including nine skull fragments, presumably thought to be relics of St Eustace.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/seriykotik/3898876085 - this shows both the inner wooden core and the outer case
h) E., T., T., and A. as depicted (scenes, starting with E. out hunting and ending with all four saints in the burning bull) in the earlier thirteenth-century St. Eustace window (bay 43; ca. 1210) in the basilica cathédrale Notre-Dame in Chartres (two sets of views):
Photographs by Gordon Plumb:
Photographs by Philip Maye (with a key that invites one to read the window from top down rather than, correctly, from bottom up):
i) E., T., T., and A. as depicted (scenes, starting with E. and the stag and ending with all four saints in the burning bull) in the earlier thirteenth-century St. Eustace window (bay 21; ca. 1210-1220) in the cathédrale Saint-Étienne in Sens:
j) E. as depicted (with the stag) in a later thirteenth-century psalter of English origin (ca. 1260-1280; Venice, Biblioteca Marciana, ms. lat. I, 77 , fol. 6v):
k) E. as depicted in the very late thirteenth- or very early fourteenth-century frescoes (ca. 1290-1305) attributed to Manuel Panselinos in the Protaton church on Mount Athos:
l) E., T., T., and A. as depicted (their baptism; in the fiery bull) in an earlier fourteenth-century French-language Life of St. Eustace (betw. 1301 and 1325; London, BL, MS Egerton 725, fols. 1r and 9r):
1) baptism: http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=9852
2) in the fiery bull: http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=9860
For other illuminated pages from this cycle, see:
m) E., T. and one son in the bull and the other son starting to climb into it as depicted (lower register) in the earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (betw. ca. 1312 and 1321/1322) of the nave of the monastery church of the Theotokos at Gračanica in, depending on one's view of the matter, Serbia's province of Kosovo and Metohija or the Republic of Kosovo:
Detail view (E., his family, and the bull):
n) E., T., T., and A. as depicted (at right in panel at lower left; in the fiery bull) in an earlier fourteenth-century pictorial menologion from Thessaloniki (betw. 1322 and 1340; Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Gr. th. f. 1, fol. 10r):
o) E. as depicted (with the stag) in an earlier fourteenth-century French-language legendary of Parisian origin (ca. 1327), with illuminations attributed to the Fauvel Master (Paris, BnF, ms. Français 183, fol. 231v):
p) E. as depicted in the earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (betw. 1335 and 1350) in the nave of the church of the Holy Ascension at the Visoki Dečani monastery near Peć in, depending on one's view of the matter, either the Republic of Kosovo or Serbia's province of Kosovo and Metohija:
q) E., T., T., and A. as depicted (in the fiery bull) in a September calendar scene in the earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (betw. 1335 and 1350) in the narthex of the church of the Holy Ascension at the Visoki Dečani monastery near Peć in, depending on one's view of the matter, either the Republic of Kosovo or Serbia's province of Kosovo and Metohija:
r) E., T., T., and A. as depicted (register below the windows; scenes, starting with E. and the stag and ending with all four saints in the burning bull) by Vitale da Bologna in the mid-fourteenth-century frescoes (1351) in the apse of the basilica di Santa Maria at the abbey of Pomposa in today's Codigoro (FE) in Emilia-Romagna:
s) E., T., T., and A. as depicted in panels from a now dismembered late fourteenth-century altarpiece of E. (ca. 1380; the latter was reported stolen in 1902 from his church in Campo di Giove (AQ) in Abruzzo; these panels were returned from the United States late in 2008 and are now in the Museo nazionale d'Abruzzo, L'Aquila):
Illustrated, English-language account: http://tinyurl.com/5a8u92
Illustrated, Italian-language account: http://tinyurl.com/po3htta
t) E. as depicted (with the stag) by Pisanello in an earlier fifteenth-century panel painting (ca. 1440; "Vision of St. Eustace") in the National Gallery, London:
u) E., T., T. and A. as depicted (E. fed into an unusually realized fiery bull while T., T., and A. look on) by the court workshop of Frederick III in a mid-fifteenth-century copy (1446) of the Legenda aurea (Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, cod. 326, fol. 229v):
v) E. as depicted in grisaille (losing, while crossing a river, one son to a wolf and the other to a lion) by Jean le Tavernier in the Suffrages of the mid-fifteenth-century Hours of Philip of Burgundy (ca. 1451-1460; Den Haag, KB, ms. 76 F 2, fol. 263r):
w) E. as depicted (with the stag) by the Master of the Benedict Passion in a later fifteenth-century panel painting (ca. 1465) variously said to be either in the National Museum in Kraków or else in the Holy Cross chapel of that city's cathedral (can anyone on the list say for certain where this painting now resides?):
x) as depicted by Giovanni Boccati in a detail of his later fifteenth-century polyptych (1468) in the chiesa di Sant'Eustachio in Belforte del Chienti (MC) in the Marche:
The altarpiece as a whole (with four scenes of E.'s life on the predella [to be read from right to left]):
Clicking on the predella panels in this image will bring up thumbnails leading to larger views of them ( If it does not work from here go to the link at bottom right and then click):
y) E., T., T., and A. as depicted (scenes, starting with E. and the stag and ending with all four saints in the burning bull) in a late fifteenth-century fresco (ca. 1480) in the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Christ, Canterbury:
Detail views (E. and the stag):
Detail view (E., T., T., and A. in the fiery bull):
z) E., T., T., and A. as depicted (scenes: E. and the Stag; E., T., T., and A. receiving baptism) by Jacques de Besançon in a late fifteenth-century copy of the Legenda aurea in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay (ca. 1480-1490; Paris, BnF, ms. Français 245, fol. 152r):
aa) E. as depicted by Albrecht Dürer on a panel of the Paumgärtner Altarpiece (ca. 1498-1504) in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich:
bb) E. as depicted (at right, after St. Procopius of Caesarea / of Scythopolis and St. Nicetas the Goth) in a late fifteenth- or earlier sixteenth-century Novgorod School icon now in the State Russian Gallery, St. Petersburg:
cc) E. as depicted (with the stag) in a late fifteenth- or early sixteenth-century panel painting (c. 1500) in the Museum of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco:
dd) E. as depicted (with the stag) by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) in a print from a late fifteenth- or early sixteenth-century engraving (ca. 1501):
1) copy in the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University:
ee) E. as depicted (at left, holding a stag's head; at right, St. George) by Hans Süss of Kulmbach (c.1480-1522) in an early sixteenth-century pen-and-ink drawing (c. 1511) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York:
ff) E. as portrayed in high relief (at center, holding a stag's head surmounted by a crucifix; at left, St. Acacius of Byzantium / Achatius; at right, St. Blasius / Blaise with the attributes of St. Erasmus) on the early sixteenth-century tomb of the Kurfürstin Anna (1512) in the evangelisch-lutherische Pfarrkirche St. Maria in Heilsbronn (Lkr. Ansbach) in Bayern:
gg) E. as depicted by Theofanis Strelitzas-Bathas (a.k.a. Theophanes the Cretan) in an earlier sixteenth-century fresco (1545-1546) in the katholikon of the Stavronikita monastery on Mt. Athos: