Oil on Canvas, 110 x 75 cm.
AROUCA., Museu de Arte Sacra.
Inscribed in cartouche beneath the saint’s feet: “SAN TA IFIGENIA PRINCEZA NUBIA CARMELITA, ADUOGADA CONTRA OSINCENDIOS.”
The legacy of this remarkable black saint, whose story of persecution and victory begins in ancient Nubia, found its ultimate fulfillment in her role as a spiritual guide to her fellow black Africans in their own trials during the Atlantic slave trade. In this painting, the holy virgin Ifigenia (“born strong” in Greek) wears a nun’s habit and holds a miniature church surrounded by flames. The inscription below attests to her Nubian origins and declares her official role as a protector against the ravages of fire.
The story of St. Ifigenia goes back to the earliest days of Christianity. According to an apocryphal account, during a mission of evangelization to Nubia (then called Ethiopia), St. Matthew defeated evil sorcerers and converted the king and his court to the new faith. The zeal of his daughter Ifigenia was especially strong, and with Matthew’s encouragement she founded a convent of 200 women. When she refused the advances of her uncle Hirtacus, he tried to burn down the building. Matthew miraculously diverted the flames to the palace, soon ending the despotic reign of the usurper and ushering in a period of prosperity under Christian rule.