In one of Rome’s modern art museums stands this nearly life-sized bronze sculpture. Recently one of our guides visited the museum and stopped to admire it… and overheard a group of tourists saying to each other, “Christ was a woman?!” They were perplexed and quickly went on to the next room.
What a shame! They failed to understand who and what this sculpture is all about. It is actually a very reverent depiction of the 4th-century Spanish martyr, Saint Eulalia.
The stories about Eulalia are sketchy, as they appear to have been embellished and exaggerated in the Middle Ages–but she definitely did exist. Eulalia was a very young Christian girl who lived during the reign of Emperor Diocletian (284-305 A.D.). It was Diocletian who initiated the last and worst of all the Christian persecutions, martyring untold thousands of Christians for their faith.
In Eulalia’s case, the (less than reliable) account of her martyrdom indicates that she was first put into a barrel with knives stuck into it, and rolled down the street. They then cut off her breasts. Next they hung her on a cross, which did not kill her–so they finally dispatched her by cutting her head off.
While we can’t really be sure how exactly Eulalia was martyred, it is well known that many Christians were crucified, including women. Thus this sculpture by Emilio Franceschi, completed in 1880, is an entirely realistic depiction of what may have happened to this young woman, who refused to deny Christ no matter what.
If you understand the story behind what you’re looking at, it makes a lot more sense, doesn’t it? But if you don’t, you can wrongly conclude that the artist was making an entirely different sort of statement–like those outraged tourists, who were overheard concluding that this statue is blasphemous.
That’s why it’s good to visit Rome with a knowledgeable guide. We know the history, and can correctly explain all the sites you visit, by putting them into their proper context!