The tale in question is supposedly about St. John the Evangelist (writer of the Christian Book of Revelations) and a woman named Drusiana. This story traces its origin to the Acts of John, an early 2nd century religious text that lies in a gray area between heresy and Apocrypha in the eyes of Catholicism and its Protestant offshoots. By the Middle Ages, the tale of St. John and Drusiana had been extracted from the Acts of John and spread to avid readers in a more orthodox fashion.
After centuries of editing and simplification, however, the story of St. John and Drusiana evolved drastically. When it was collected in The Golden Legend by Jacobus de Voragine (1275), the event had been reduced to a short and abrupt shell of its original form. Fair warning: the story may be triggering to people with feminist, or women’s advocate, inclinations. As told in The Golden Legend, the story of St. John and Drusiana is quite awkward.
The story occurs after John the Evangelist returned from exile and could, once again, roam the lands of the Roman Empire. In some medieval accounts of the story, an Ephesian woman named Drusiana had sheltered John in her home and played the part of a servant for him, before he was sent into exile. The Golden Legend, however, only proposed that she loved, respected and admired St. John and wanted to see him in person. Tragically, she died while John was exiled, and those who knew Drusiana were heartbroken that she had not been able to see the one she so deeply admired. Some medieval accounts of the story even claim she died because she felt so distraught at no longer being able to serve St. John.
After his exile ended, John the Evangelist traveled back to Ephesus, where the friends of Drusiana told the saint of the woman’s death. With the Ephesians in tow, the saint went to where Drusiana’s body lay. As a powerful miracle-worker, St. John had no trouble resurrecting Drusiana from the dead, but he had an immediate task for the newly resurrected woman—he wanted her to prepare a meal. In The Golden Legend, St. John brought Drusiana back from the dead, saying, “Drusiana arise, and go into thy house, and make ready for me some refection” (Jacobus de Voragine, 1275). In The Book of the City of Ladies, the French writer, Christine De Pizan (1364-1430), summarized St. John’s statement even better; “Rise up Drusiana! Go home and get my food ready for me!”
In the original Acts of John, there was no talk of preparing meals. The 2nd century account gave Drusiana a much more elaborate and interesting story—one involving lust, necrophilia, serpents and angels—but that is a tale for another day.
Check out our article about the strange and odd events that occur in the Acts of John, including the original Drusiana story, HERE.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan, translated by Rosalind Brown-Grant. New York: Penguin Books, 1999.