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Blessed Are the Simple – the Juggler of Our Lady

By Melanie Zebrowski, Library Specialist

Detail image from The Little Juggler by Barbara Cooney part of the Marian Library's juvenile collection

Have you ever heard the story of the medieval juggler? His performance that brought a statue of the Virgin Mary to life? This well-known Marian legend has been retold and reimagined in countless ways over the years. We recently added a few new versions to the Marian Library's juvenile collection. Although the original tale can be traced back as far as the thirteenth century, its lessons are still relevant today, and, at the heart of it, there is a simple truth that both children and adults can understand.

The story revolves around a traveling juggler (most commonly named Barnaby) who makes his living by entertaining crowds of people in the streets. One day he grows weary of his lifestyle and decides to enter a monastery. Although he tries to be as pious and devout as the other monks, deep down he feels guilty that he can’t pray or read or write like they do. He doubts whether or not he is cut out to be a monk after all. Upon discovering a statue of Mary in the crypt below the monastery, Barnaby decides to perform his devotions to her in the only way he knows how — juggling! Every day he goes to visit her and jumps and dances, flips and twirls, until he exhausts himself by entertaining her. Eventually, some of the monks get suspicious of his absences and decide to follow him. As they watch him perform, they become angry because they find his behavior to be sacrilegious. But just as they are about to burst down the door and punish him, a miracle happens.

Barnaby faints from exhaustion, and as he does, the statue of the Virgin comes to life! Glowing and radiant, she descends from her niche to wipe the sweat from his face and cradle him in her arms. The monks, stunned and speechless, immediately regret their ways and see Barnaby as a true saint and holy man of God.

The story of the juggler can teach us a valuable lesson about simplicity and the idea that everyone has something to share. Our talents and our gifts, whatever they may be, are important and worthy — especially the ones that may sometimes get overlooked! It seems that miracles tend to favor those who are humble and true to themselves, and the juggler is a testament to that. Existing for the past 700 years (and maybe even longer), the story continues to live on through many different forms and artistic renderings, with the same timeless lessons for people of all ages to enjoy.

If you would like to read the story for yourself, or if you know someone else who would appreciate the juggler’s tale, we happen to have a large variety of options to choose from in the Marian Library's collection. From children’s stories, to movies, and even an opera libretto, there are so many interesting versions and ways the story has been reimagined. Feel free to request a copy of any of these today! 

The Juggler of Our Lady - Anatole France 

The Clown of God: An Old Story - Tomie de Paola

The Little Juggler – Barbara Cooney

The Juggler of Notre Dame [DVD] 

The Juggler of Notre Dame: Miracle Play in Three Acts

For additional insight on this legendary tale, see the current exhibit at Dumbarton Oaks — Juggling the Middle Ages

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