December 2 marks the Feast Day of Saint Bibiana, a Roman woman who faced a number of challenges during her lifetime. The faith of each member of her family was tested. Her father was tortured and then died; his mother beheaded; and her sister died before a judge. Also punished for her beliefs, Bibiana withstood all tests of her devotion. Her martyrdom came after being tied to a pillar and whipped.
After her remains were recovered, Pope Urban VIII selected Gian Lorenzo Bernini to reconstruct the Roman church dedicated to the saint and to execute a sculpture of the martyr for the altar. In addition, working under Bernini’s supervision, Pietro da Cortona and Agostino Ciampelli completed frescoes depicting scenes from the Life of the Saint as well as two niche sculptures.
References: Alvan Butler. Butler’s Lives of the Saints. Mineola NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 2005; John Beldon Scott. “Barberini family.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press; Jörg Martin Merz. “Cortona, Pietro da.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Santa Bibiana, 1624-26. Rome (Italy). Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Statue of Santa Bibiana, 1624-26. Rome (Italy). Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Interior, Santa Bibiana, 1624-26. Rome (Italy). Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Further reading: Anthony F. Blunt & Jorg M. Merz. Pietro da Cortona and Roman Baroque Architecture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007; Tod A. Marder. Bernini and the Art of Architecture. New York: Abbeville Press, 1998.