“Our Lady’s Juggler” Summary by Anatole France

“Our Lady’s Juggler” is a short story by Anatole France about a traveling juggler who decides to leave his art and devote his life to a higher calling. This story shows up in anthologies with some regularity and seems to be one of France’s more popular selections. Here’s a summary of “Our Lady’s Juggler”.

“Our Lady’s Juggler” Summary

A poor juggler in France, Barnaby, travels from town to town putting on performances. He sets up in the public square and performs juggling feats of great balance and dexterity with copper balls and knives. The crowd, which resists at first, is drawn in by the tremendous skill and gives him some money.

Barnaby earns a meager living. He can only work on fine days. In the winter, he can’t work at all and suffers from hunger and the cold.

He bears his difficult life well, believing in a reward in the next life. He lives with principle, never blasphemes God’s name and never covets women. He’s devoted to the Blessed Virgin and prays to her whenever he enters a church.

Our Lady's Juggler Summary Anatole France
“Our Lady’s Juggler” Summary

One evening, Barnaby walks on the road looking for a barn to sleep in. He meets a monk walking the same way. They talk about their respective callings, with the monk declaring the superiority of the religious life and Barnaby acknowledging this truth. He says he would abandon his art for the Holy Virgin and the monastic life. Discerning Barnaby’s sincerity, he offers to admit him to his monastery, where he’s the prior.

So it is that Barnaby becomes a monk. The monks compete in their devotion to the Blessed Virgin. The prior writes books, and others copy them on vellum and adorn the pages with beautiful religious representations. Another carves representations of The Virgin until he’s covered with white dust. Poets compose hymns in Latin and another sings.

Barnaby walks in the monastery garden in despair. He’s unable to honor the Holy Mother like the others, even though she has his complete heart’s affection.

One evening, a monk tells the story of a simple religious man who could only repeat the Ave Maria. He was despised for being so ignorant. When he died, five roses miraculously issued from his mouth, affirming his sanctity. Barnaby is moved by the story but still doesn’t know what he can do.

“Our Lady’s Juggler” Summary, Cont’d

He continues getting more downcast until one morning when he wakes up with joy. He goes to the chapel early when it’s empty and again in the evening. He starts doing this every day and his sadness leaves him.

The other monks notice the change in him and wonder what he’s doing in the chapel. The prior, who keeps an eye on everyone, decides to find out what’s going on. He and two other older monks look in through a crack in the door.

Barnaby is before the altar standing on his head, juggling copper balls and knives with his feet. The two old monks, not knowing that Barnaby is offering his talents to the Blessed Virgin, object to this sacrilege. The prior, knowing Barnaby’s sincerity, assumes he’s gone mad.

Just as the three men are about to remove Barnaby, the Blessed Virgin descends the altar steps and wipes the sweat from Barnaby’s brow with her robe.

The prior and two other brothers fall to the ground and kiss it, saying, “Blessed are the simple-hearted, for they shall see God.”

I hope this summary of “Our Lady’s Juggler” by Anatole France was helpful.