Towards the end of the book of Daniel is a dramatic tale about how the prophet saved an innocent woman named Susanna from the death penalty. It’s a story about attempted rape, the abuse of power and the right to a fair trial. It’s set in Babylon, where the Jews where living in exile.
It begins by introducing a rich man named Joachim, who was married to Susanna, a woman known for her beauty and goodness. His house was usually busy, because two elderly judges would hear court cases there in the mornings. In the grounds of his house was a tree-lined garden. His wife Susanna used to take a daily walk there at noon, after everyone had left.
The two judges noticed this and began to lust after her. One day, they decided to do something about it. They hid in the garden and planned to force themselves on her. Susanna came in to with two maids and because it was a hot day, she decided to take a bath. The maids went to fetch her some toiletries, shutting the gate on the way out.
The two judges then emerged from hiding and demanded that Susanna sleep with them. If she refused, they said, they would tell everyone that they had caught her in the act with a young man. But Susanna said no, preferring to risk the death penalty than give in to them. She then shouted for help, as did the judges. Everyone from the house came running, to see what the matter was.
A trial was called at Joachim’s house the very next day, attended by Susanna’s parents and friends. The two judges set out their case against her. Since they were respected men, everyone believed their version of events – and Susanna was condemned to death. However, as she was being taken away, the prophet Daniel saw her and called out: “Return to court, for these men have given false evidence against her.”
As Daniel was known for his wisdom, everyone returned at once. Then Daniel questioned the two men separately. He asked the first under what tree he had seen Susanna cheat on her husband. He answered: “Under a mastic tree.” He then asked the other man the same question. But he answered: “Under an evergreen tree.”
When everyone heard this contradictory evidence, they realised that the accusations were false. Susanna was immediately acquitted and instead, the two judges were sentenced to death. Everyone praised God that justice had been done – and the prophet Daniel became even more highly-regarded.
This stained glass scene of the incident in the garden is found within Sacred Heart and St Teresa’s, in Coleshill. Given Susanna’s refusal to sin, the image forms part of a window themed around the Sixth Commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” The window was created by Gilbert E. Sheedy around 1950.
The scene has a long history in art, usually contrasting a nude, bathing Susanna with the leering old men. In this more family-friendly example, the two judges discuss their plot from their hiding place, while Susanna is attended by her two maids. The scene is completed with details from the garden – a tree, bushes, flowers and the garden gate that the maids closed behind them.
See the full image:
Where to find this work of art
Sacred Heart Coleshill
Read the relevant passage