THE LEGEND OF ST GIULIO
Giulio and his brother Giuliano were born on the Greek island of Aegina and had maintained their Byzantine faith despite the pressures of Arian persecution raging around them. After taking holy orders – Giulio became a priest, Giuliano a deacon – the brothers proposed to evangelise pagan regions and to this end obtained an Imperial Order from Theodosius the Great, the Emperor of the East and of the West. With this order all governors, field-masters, tribunes and centurions were obliged to lend obedience to the two brothers, as well as furnishing armed protection and unlimited assistance. In 383, off they went on their journey to convert pagan sites, with an emphasis on stamping out pockets of the widespread Mithraic cult, travelling through several middle European countries before arriving in Italy.
In 390, they ventured into the province of Novara, a province then still defiantly pagan, meeting up, it is related, with St Gaudenzio and erecting churches on the chief pagan sites: at Vercelli and on the banks of Lake Maggiore (with the exception of Angera, a stronghold of the Mythraic cult, where the locals soon sent the brothers packing).
The brothers at last came to the shores of our lake, evangelising on their way Crusinallo, Ameno, Armeno and Gozzano. But before the construction of the church at Gozzano – their ninety-ninth – was finished, Giulio left Giuliano to work on without him and made his way through the woods to Lake Orta. Seeing the island, he asked the boatmen to take him over but they refused, insisting the isle was rife with ferocious dragons and serpents. So Giulio spread his cloak on the waters, stepped on it and whisked over the lake, waving his staff. Once on the island he told the monstrous beasts to get lost. They did, it appears, without a murmur or a drop of blood being shed, flying off to the hills around. So Giulio then began building his hundredth church, helped by his brother in Gozzano, both sharing and hurling tools across the lake, back and forth. Other churchmen joined St Giulio, who died in 401 (the year is not certain) on 31st January, now his feast day. He is the patron saint of builders and stonemasons and they come from all over the area on that date to celebrate on the island.
A ‘dragon’s bone’ , found in a grotto on the shore at Orta, is kept hanging in the sacristy