If you’re in, or have ever been to, Seville, you may have noticed pictures of two young ladies in mediaeval dress, surrounded by pottery and supporting a model of the Giralda tower between them. The picture is most probably a reproduction of the painting by Seville’s favourite artist, Bartolomé Murillo (1617-1682), and the two young ladies are the Saints Justa and Rufina. Although not technically the patron saints of Seville (that honour goes to Ferdinand III, who reconquered the city from the Moors in 1248) they are considered the special protectors of the Cathedral and the Giralda, which they preserved from harm during the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, and are also patrons of potters and pottery sellers.
According to legend they lived in the Triana neighbourhood of Seville in the 3rd century, during Roman times, where they made fine earthenware pottery, a trade by which they supported both themselves and many of the city’s poor. However, they refused to sell what they made for use in one of the city’s pagan festivals, and had all their pots and dishes smashed by angry locals. In retaliation they smashed a statue of the Goddess Venus, and for this crime they were arrested and imprisoned by the Roman prefect Diogenianus.
Unable to persuade them to renounce their Christian faith Diogenianus had them tortured on the rack and with hooks, and then forced them to walk barefoot to the Sierra Morena (a mountain range to the north of Seville). Seeing that their resolve was still unshaken they were deprived of food and water. Justa was the first to die, and her body was thrown into a well. Diogenianus expected that the death of Justa would break Rufina’s spirit, but when it didn’t she was thrown to the lions in the amphitheatre. However, even the lions refused to co-operate and devour her, and Diogenianus finally had her strangled (or possibly beheaded), and her body was burned.
Both bodies were recovered by Sabinus, the bishop of Seville, and given a Christian burial in 287. Their saints’ day is July 19.