Our Lady of Justinienne

June 23: Our Lady of Justinienne

This feast refers to a church known as Our Lady of Justinienne, built at Carthage by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was to her that he attributed both of his victories over the Vandals.

Justinian I, also known as Justinian the Great, was a Byzantine Emperor who reigned from the year 527 until 565 AD. His great desire was to restore the lost western half of the ancient Roman Empire to his control to reunite it with the Byzantine Empire in the east. He was largely successful. Justinian never fought personally in any of his campaigns, for he had a talented and capable general named Belisarius to lead his armies.

The Byzantine Emperor began his conquests by attacking the Vandal kingdom in North Africa. In the year 530 AD, King Hilderic of the Vandals had been overthrown and imprisoned by Gelimer, who was his cousin. As Hilderic had been on friendly terms with Justinian, and had maintained good relations with the local Catholic clergy, Justinian decided to answer his appeal for assistance as an excuse to sail to the Vandal kingdom and conquer it.

In the year 533, General Belisarius set sail with a Byzantine fleet that included 92 Dromons, which were a type of ancient galley, and an additional 500 transports. They landed with an army of about 15,000 soldiers, reinforced with an unknown number of barbarian troops. They met the Vandals, who had an army of approximately 11,000 men, at the Battle of Ad Decimum, on 14 September 533.

At one point during the battle, Belisarius’ main army had suffered serious casualties and was beginning to collapse, while his cavalry had already been routed. It seemed he was about to be beaten by the Vandals if they but made but one more assault, yet they inexplicably failed to do so.

It seems the Vandal usurper had come upon the body of his brother, who had been killed earlier in the battle, and then was so overcome with sorrow that he ordered that his brother's body should be buried immediately. In essence, then, the Vandals had no leader while all of this was occurring.

Belisarius took the opportunity to gather his own forces and regroup, returning to attack the Vandals as they hesitated and eventually drove them from the field of battle.

Belisarius then went on to take Carthage, and afterward, at the Battle of Tricamarum on 15 December 533, the last Vandal army was defeated and the conquest of North Africa completed.

Emperor Justinian was known as a great builder of monuments and churches, and Our Lady of Justinienne was built in honor of the Blessed Virgin in Carthage.

Justinian's reign was a long one, and by the time of his death he had constructed many splendid edifices to the glory of God. He built the great church of Holy Wisdom, the “Hagia Sophia,” at Constantinople after the former building was destroyed during the Nike Revolt. The Hagia Sophia, with its huge dome, is still one of the architectural marvels of the world.

Our Lady of Justinienne.

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