The story of Saint Eustace tells how a Roman general named Placidus was once out hunting. He pursued a noble stag, which suddenly turned and approached him. Between the stag’s antlers Placidus saw a crucifix. A voice was calling him by name. During the vision he received a prophecy: “I am Jesus who you honor without knowing it…” and that he would suffer for Christ. He was baptized with his wife and two sons, and given the name Eustachius (or Eustace).

Denounced as a Christian, he lost his property, was reduced to abject poverty, and Roman authorities took his wife and children. However, being a capable general, he was recalled to duty by Trajan to help repel barbarians from Rome, which he did.

By this time his family had become Christian too, and all four of them — Eustace, his wife Theopista, and his sons Agapetus and Theopestus — refused to make sacrifices to pagan gods in the celebrations following his own victories.

When they refused, an enraged Trajan ordered them thrown to the lions. The big cats played like kittens around them, so they were taken to the colosseum in Rome, encased in a bronze bull, and roasted to death.

Eustace is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, and he is venerated as the patron of hunters. He is depicted in the dress of a nobleman together with the stag with a crucifix between its horns.

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