OUR LADY'S JUGGLER
by Anatole France
In the days of King Louis there was a poor juggler
in France, a native of Compiegne, Barnaby by name,
who went about from town to town performing feats
of skill and strength. On fair days he would unfold
an old worn-out carpet in the public square, and
when by means of a jovial address, which he had
learned of a very ancient juggler, and which he
never varied in the least, he had drawn together
the children and loafers, he assumed extraordinary
attitudes, and balanced a tin plate on the tip of
his nose. At first the crowd would feign indifference.
But when, supporting himself on his hands face
downwards, he threw into the air six copper balls,
which glittered in the sunshine, and caught them
again with his feet; or when, throwing himself
backwards until his heels and the nape of his neck
met, giving his body the form of a perfect wheel,
he would juggle in this posture with a dozen knives,
a murmur of admiration would escape the spectators,
and pieces of money rain down upon the carpet.
Nevertheless, like the majority of those who
live by their wits, Barnaby of Compiegne had a
great struggle to make a living.
Earning his bread in the sweat of his brow, he
bore rather more than his share of the penalties
consequent upon the misdoings of our father Adam.
Again, he was unable to work as constantly as he
would have been willing to do. The warmth of the
sun and the broad daylight were as necessary to
enable him to display his brilliant parts as to
the trees if flower and fruit should be expected
of them. In wintertime he was nothing more than
a tree stripped of its leaves, and as it were dead.
The frozen ground was hard to the juggler, and,
like the grasshopper of which Marie de France tells
us, the inclement season caused him to suffer both
cold and hunger. But as he was simple-natured he
bore his ills patiently.
He had never meditated on the origin of wealth,
nor upon the inequality of human conditions. He
believed firmly that if this life should prove
hard, the life to come could not fail to redress
the balance, and this hope upheld him. He did
not resemble those thievish and miscreant Merry
Andrews who sell their souls to the devil. He
never blasphemed God's name; he lived uprightly,
and although he had no wife of his own, he did
not covet his neighbor's, since woman is ever
the enemy of the strong man, as it appears by
the history of Samson recorded in the Scriptures.
In truth, his was not a nature much disposed to
carnal delights, and it was a greater deprivation
to him to forsake the tankard than the Hebe who
bore it. For whilst not wanting in sobriety, he
was fond of a drink when the weather waxed hot.
He was a worthy man who feared God, and was
very devoted to the Blessed Virgin.
Never did he fail, on entering a church, to fall
upon his knees before the image of the Mother
of God, and offer up this prayer to her:
"Blessed Lady, keep watch over my life until it
shall please God that I die, and when I am dead,
ensure to me the possession of the joys of paradise."
Now, on a certain evening after a dreary wet
day, as Barnaby pursued his road, sad and bent,
carrying under his arm his balls and knives
wrapped up in his old carpet, on the watch for
some barn where, though he might not sup, he
might sleep, he perceived on the road, going
in the same direction as himself, a monk, whom
he saluted courteously. And as they walked at
the same rate they fell into conversation with
"Fellow traveler," said the monk, "how comes it
about that you are clothed all in green? Is it
perhaps in order to take the part of a jester
in some mystery play?"
"Not at all, good father," replied Barnaby.
"Such as you see me, I am called Barnaby, and
for my calling I am a juggler. There would be
no pleasanter calling in the world if it would
always provide one with daily bread."
"Friend Barnaby," returned the monk, "be careful
what you say. There is no calling more pleasant
than the monastic life. Those who lead it are
occupied with the praises of God, the Blessed
Virgin, and the saints; and, indeed, the religious
life is one ceaseless hymn to the Lord."
Barnaby replied, "Good father, I own that I spoke
like an ignorant man. Your calling cannot be in
any respect compared to mine, and although there
may be some merit in dancing with a penny balanced
on a stick on the tip of one's nose, it is not
a merit which comes within hail of your own.
Gladly would I, like you, good father, sing my
office day by day, and especially the office of
the most Holy Virgin, to whom I have vowed a
singular devotion. In order to embrace the
monastic life I would willingly abandon the art
by which from Soissons to Beauvais I am well
known in upwards of six hundred towns and villages."
The monk was touched by the juggler's simplicity,
and as he was not lacking in discernment, he at
once recognized in Barnaby one of those men of
whom it is said in the Scriptures: Peace on earth
to men of good will. And for this reason he replied,
"Friend Barnaby, come with me, and I will have
you admitted into the monastery of which I am
Prior. He who guided Saint Mary of Egypt in the
desert set me upon your path to lead you into
the way of salvation."
It was in this manner, then, that Barnaby became
a monk. In the monastery into which he was received
the religious vied with one another in the worship
of the Blessed Virgin, and in her honor each
employed all the knowledge and all the skill
which God had given him.
The Prior on his part wrote books dealing according
to the rules of scholarship with the virtues of
the Mother of God.
Brother Maurice, with a deft hand copied out these
treatises upon sheets of vellum.
Brother Alexander adorned the leaves with delicate
miniature paintings. Here were displayed the Queen
of Heaven seated upon Solomon's throne, and while
four lions were on guard at her feet, around the
nimbus which encircled her head hovered seven
doves, which are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit,
the gifts, namely, of Fear, Piety, Knowledge,
Strength, Counsel, Understanding, and Wisdom.
For her companions she had six virgins with hair
of gold, namely, Humility, Prudence, Seclusion,
Submission, Virginity, and Obedience.
At her feet were two little naked figures, perfectly
white, in an attitude of supplication. These were
souls imploring her all-powerful intercession for
their soul's health, and we may be sure not imploring
Upon another page facing this, Brother Alexander
represented Eve, so that the Fall and the Redemption
could be perceived at one and the same time -- Eve
the Wife abased, and Mary the Virgin exalted.
Furthermore, to the marvel of the beholder, this
book contained presentments of the Well of Living
Waters, the Fountain, the Lily, the Moon, the Sun,
and the Garden Enclosed of which the Song of Songs
tells us, the Gate of Heaven and the City of God,
and all these things were symbols of the Blessed
Brother Marbode was likewise one of the most loving
children of Mary.
He spent all his days carving images in stone, so
that his beard, his eyebrows, and his hair were
white with dust, and his eyes continually swollen
and weeping; but his strength and cheerfulness
were not diminished, although he was now well
gone in years, and it was clear that the Queen
of Paradise still cherished her servant in his
old age. Marbode represented her seated upon a
throne, her brow encircled with an orb-shaped
nimbus set with pearls. And he took care that
the folds of her dress should cover the feet of
her, concerning whom the prophet declared: My
beloved is as a garden enclosed.
Sometimes, too, he depicted her in the semblance
of a child full of grace, and appearing to say,
"Thou art my God, even from my mother's womb."
In the priory, moreover, were poets who composed
hymns in Latin, both in prose and verse, in honor
of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and amongst the
company was even a brother from Picardy who sang
the miracles of Our Lady in rhymed verse and in
the vulgar tongue.
Being a witness of this emulation in praise and
the glorious harvest of their labors, Barnaby
mourned his own ignorance and simplicity.
"Alas!" he sighed, as he took his solitary walk
in the little shelterless garden of the monastery,
"wretched wight that I am, to be unable, like
my brothers, worthily to praise the Holy Mother
of God, to whom I have vowed my whole heart's
affection. Alas! alas! I am but a rough man and
unskilled in the arts, and I can render you in
service, Blessed Lady, neither edifying sermons,
nor ingenious paintings, nor statues truthfully
sculptured, nor verses whose march is measured
to the beat of feet. No gift have I, alas!"
After this fashion he groaned and gave himself
up to sorrow. But one evening, when the monks
were spending their hour of liberty in conversation,
he heard one of them tell the tale of a religious
man who could repeat nothing other than the
Ave Maria. This poor man was despised for his
ignorance; but after his death there issued
forth from his mouth five roses in honor of the
five letters of the name Mary (Marie), and thus
his sanctity was made manifest.
Whilst he listened to this narrative Barnaby
marveled yet once again at the loving kindness
of the Virgin; but the lesson of that blessed
death did not avail to console him, for his
heart overflowed with zeal, and he longed to
advance the glory of his Lady, who is in heaven.
How to compass this he sought, but could find
no way, and day by day he became the more cast
down, when one morning he awakened filled with
joy, hastened to the chapel, and remained there
alone for more than an hour. After dinner he
returned to the chapel once more.
And, starting from that moment, he repaired
daily to the chapel at such hours as it was
deserted, and spent within it a good part of
the time which the other monks devoted to the
liberal and mechanical arts. His sadness
vanished, nor did he any longer groan.
A demeanor so strange awakened the curiosity
of the monks.
These began to ask one another for what purpose
Brother Barnaby could be indulging so persistently
The prior, whose duty it is to let nothing
escape him in the behavior of his children in
religion, resolved to keep a watch over Barnaby
during his withdrawals to the chapel. One day,
then, when he was shut up there after his custom,
the prior, accompanied by two of the older monks,
went to discover through the chinks in the door
what was going on within the chapel.
They saw Barnaby before the altar of the
Blessed Virgin, head downwards, with his feet
in the air, and he was juggling with six balls
of copper and a dozen knives. In honor of the
Holy Mother of God he was performing those
feats, which aforetime had won him most renown.
Not recognizing that the simple fellow was
thus placing at the service of the Blessed
Virgin his knowledge and skill, the two old
monks exclaimed against the sacrilege.
The prior was aware how stainless was Barnaby's
soul, but he concluded that he had been seized
with madness. They were all three preparing to
lead him swiftly from the chapel, when they
saw the Blessed Virgin descend the steps of
the altar and advance to wipe away with a fold
of her azure robe the sweat which was dropping
from her juggler's forehead.
Then the prior, falling upon his face upon the
pavement, uttered these words, "Blessed are the
simple-hearted, for they shall see God."
"Amen!" responded the old brethren, and kissed
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~