Saints Rufina and Justa

In Seville, Spain, the passion of Saints Justa and Rufina, virgins who were arrested by the prefect Diogenian. First they were stretched on the rack and their flesh was torn with iron claws. Then they were cast into prison and suffered hunger and various further tortures. Finally Justa gave up the ghost in prison and Rufina's neck was broken while she professed her belief in the Lord. – Roman Martyrology for July 19

Justa and her sister Rufina made a meager living selling pottery in Seville in the 3rd century, during the prefecture of Diogenian. One day in the year 287 a crowd of pagans came by, carrying on their shoulders a statue of the goddess Salambo. They demanded an offering for the goddess, but the sisters refused, proclaiming their faith in Christ and deriding the statue. The pagans attacked them and destroyed all their pottery, but in the tumult the statue fell over and broke into pieces. For this, Diogenian had the sisters tortured and cast into prison, where they suffered further torments. Justa was the first to die, and her body was thrown into a well. Then the prefect ordered Rufina to be fed to a lion in the amphitheater. The lion refused to harm her, so instead the torturers broke her neck and burned her body.1

The women are the patron saints of the city of Seville, so they are often pictured flanking the "Giralda," the city's iconic bell tower, as at right. Some of the ancient sources say that they were married women, but in most of the documents they are virgins.2 Consequently the images portray them as beautiful young women and usually have their heads uncovered, a way of expressing unmarried status. Their principal attributes are pottery vessels, as we see in these two images:
Velázquez, St. Rufina. (See the description page.)
Valdés, St. Justa. (See the description page.)
One of the tortures ordered by Diogenian was for the sisters to run barefoot over a stretch of sharp broken rocks, so they are often pictured barefoot. In Goya's portrait Rufina's lion tamely licks her bare toes.

Prepared in 2018 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University.

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(See the description page.)

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DATES

  • Feast day: July 19

HAGIOGRAPHY

NOTES

1 Acta Sanctorum, July vol. 4, 585. Butler, III, 144. Florez, IX, 309-315. Florez explains (IX, 108) that the cult of Salambo originated in Babylon and was identified in the West with Venus. Not all the accounts include the episode of the lion.

2 Acta Sanctorum, ibid., 585. Florez, loc. cit., 313.