Our Lady’s Juggler

December 7, 2017

A Tale from Christendom

  In the days of King Louis there lived in France a poor juggler named Barnabas, who traveled from town to town performing tricks of strength and skill. At first people would look upon his performance with indifference. But when, standing head down on his hands, he would throw in the air and catch with his feet six copper balls which shone in the sun, or when, arching back until his head touched his heels, he made his body into the shape of a perfect circle, and, in this position, juggled with twelve knives, a murmur of admiration would rise from the onlookers and pieces of money would rain on his carpet.

One evening he met along the road a monk and saluted him. “Friend,” said the monk, “how is it that you are dressed all in green? To play the part of the fool in some mystery?”

“Father,” replied Barnabas, “I am called Barnabas and I am a juggler by trade. It would be the finest trade in the world if it provided me with food every day.”

“Friend Barnabas,” answered the monk, “take care what you say. There is no finer estate in the world than that of the monastic. The life of a monk is a perpetual hymn to the Lord.”

  Barnabas answered, “Father, I would willingly abandon the art for which I am known in more than six hundred towns and villages to enter monastic life.”

The good monk, touched by the juggler’s simplicity, answered, “Friend Barnabas, come with me and I will have you enter the monastery of which I am Prior.” This is how Barnabas became a monk.

The Prior, as his work, composed books which dealt with the virtues of the Mother of God. Brother Alexander painted fine miniatures on them. There were also poets in the monastery who composed Latin prose pieces and hymns in honor of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. Witnessing such wealth of praises and such a rich harvest of works, Barnabas bemoaned his ignorance and artlessness. “Alas,” he signed. “It makes me very unhappy to find myself unable to praise worthily the Holy Mother of God.”

John White Alexander, Manuscript Book mural (1896), Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C.

One evening he overheard one of his brothers telling the story of a monk who could only recite the Ave Maria. This monk had been looked upon with contempt because of his ignorance; but when he died five roses grew out of his mouth in honor of the five letters in the name of Maria and his holiness was thus made manifest. On hearing this story Barnabas once more admired the goodness of the Virgin, and he wanted to celebrate the glory of His Lady.

The Little Juggler in the chapel. Drawing by Violet Moore Higgins, 1917.

One day when Barnabas was closeted in the chapel, as was his habit, the Prior came, accompanied by two friars, to observe through a crack in the door what he was doing inside. They saw Barnabas before the Holy Virgin’s altar, head down and feet up, juggling with six copper balls and twelve knives. He was performing his tricks in honor of the Holy Mother of God. The two old friars cried sacrilege. The Prior knew that Barnabas was pure of heart but though he had become insane. All three were about to drag him from the chapel when they beheld the Virgin descend from the altar and with the edge of her blue mantel wipe the sweat which poured from the juggler’s forehead.Then the prior, throwing himself face to the ground, intoned these words: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

“Amen,” responded the friars, kissing the ground.

TFP Newsletter Vol. IV, No. 8 – 1984, pg. 12.

Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 604




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