On July 6, the Belarusian Orthodox Church celebrated the memory of the Belarusian princess who died for an unknown reason at the age of 16 but soon became famous for miracles throughout the Belarusian land. With time, the veneration of this saint spread to the entire Russian Church. What do we know about Juliania, Princess of Alšany?
The Family of the Saint
Juliania was born in 1534/1550 in the family of Yuri Alšanski, a prominent nobleman of the Alšanski-Dubrovicki clan, the Lithuanian princes who were related to another famous family of Gediminovič. Juliania’s father, Yuri Alšanski, was a famous military commander who fought more than once against the Crimean Tatars, as well as a prominent philanthropist of the Kiev Caves Lavra, whose name is found in the ancient commemoration book of that monastery. The father of the future saint did good not only to the Lavra but, as can be seen from his will, he left posthumous contributions to six more monasteries and sixteen cathedral churches of the most prominent cities of the ancient Belarusian-Lithuanian state, as well as gave fatherly instructions to his sons to construct a church. By order of the Alšanski family, possibly by Juliania’s own sister, the Peresopnica Gospel (1561) was created.
The Accidental Uncovering of Relics
We barely know anything about the young princess’s life. Her coffin was found in the 17th century near the cathedral church of Kiev Caves Lavra during the digging of the grave of a virgin who had died in Kiev at the time of a prominent church figure, author and polemist against the Unia, Archimandrite Elisei Pletenetski. There was a stone on a coffin with a banner and the coat of arms of Princes of Alšany (Centaur), and also there was a silver plaque with an inscription “Juliania, Princess Alšanskaja, the daughter of Prince George Alšanski. She remained a maiden and died at the age of 16.” When the coffin was opened, they found out that the relics were incorruptible. The Princess lay as if asleep, “her body was gracious and white” (The Kiev Caves Patericon). The maiden was dressed in silk gold cloth and a golden crown with beads, she was wearing a lot of precious jewelry. The coffin with relics was transferred to the cathedral church and placed in one of the aisles.
The Kiev Caves Patericon reported several miracles related to the veneration of the saint. Holy Righteous Juliania appeared in a vision to St. Peter Mogila, Metropolitan of Kiev, Galicia and All Russia, Exarch of the Patriarch of Constantinople, and rebuked him for not honoring her relics sanctified by God. The saint ordered a new shrine for her and dressed her relics in better clothes. The virgin was canonized at the time of Mogila, and the metropolitan carved the following inscription on her tomb: “By the will of the Creator of heaven and earth, Juliania, the helper and great intercessor in heaven, lives forever. Her bones are the healing for all suffering… You adorn the Paradise, Juliania, like a beautiful flower…” The petition to St. Juliania was also included in the Canon to the Holy Fathers of Kiev Caves. The veneration of the Princess became even more widespread after she appeared in a dream to the hegumen of the St. Michael Golden-Domed Monastery, Theodosius Safonovic, who often visited the Lavra, and reproached him for never having kissed her honorable shrine out of doubt that the Lord had glorified her relics with holiness, “I am Juliania whose relics rest in the Church of the Caves. You think my relics are nothing. For this reason, the Lord is sending you a sign so that you may understand that I am counted by the Lord among the holy virgins who pleased Him.”
Sacrilege Punished by Demonic Possession
The Patericon also reports that one day a man came to the Lavra, wishing to honor the relics of God’s servants. In particular, he asked to open to him the shrine of Saint Juliania and when his request was granted, he bowed down to the relics of the saint. However, in reality he did not want to honor the relics. He wanted to steal a precious ring from the princess’s hand. In this way, this man not only committed sacrilege, but also deceived the minister in the church. Having done his vile deed, he immediately left the church, but as soon as he crossed the threshold of the church, he was struck by a terrible fit of fatal frenzy. When people rushed to see his body, someone recognized him as a local Socinian, a member of the anti-Trinitarian Protestant group that was quite popular in the Rzeczpospolita. They, of course, did not honor the relics nor did they worship saints.
The shrine and relics of the saint were badly damaged by a fire in 1718, after which the remains of the relics were transferred to the Near Caves of the Lavra. It is worth noting that the Righteous Juliania became the second of the holy women in Russia (the first was St. Euphrosyne of Polotsk), whose relics were granted the privilege of being buried in the Lavra Caves. The commemoration of Juliania was included in the liturgical calendar of the Russian Church by a series of edicts of the Holy Synod in the 18th century, and she is especially revered in Belarus and Ukraine. The 500th anniversary of the Holy Princess was celebrated in 2005 in Dubrovica, one of the fiefdoms of the Alšanski family.
Saint Juliania, pray to God for us!