The Statue of Liberty is a national symbol known across the nation and globe; the iconic image of that great lady in her loose robe and spiky crown is familiar even to folks who have never been near New York City. She holds aloft her famed torch in one hand; in the other, she clutches a tablet inscribed with the date (in Roman numerals) that our nation approved the Declaration of Independence: July 4, 1776. At her feet lie broken shackles.
Indelible as the statue’s image may be in our memory, there are still many facts about this amazing lady that many of us do not know. Frederic Bartholdi, a French sculptor, is the man behind Miss Liberty. When he was on a trip to New York Harbor, he conceived the idea of a mighty woman with a torch lighting the way for freedom-loving people to the New World. A story exists that when Bartholdi was 17 years old, he witnessed a woman with a torch trying to set fire to a barricade. This scene is supposed to have returned to Bartholdi when he was sketching the Statue of Liberty. Others say that his idea came from studying ancient sculpture. And some think the idea sprouted from an earlier project, the Suez Lighthouse, which consisted of another Lady Liberty: Egypt bringing the light to Asia. Bartholdi vehemently denied this.
Miss Liberty has been a shared hope that has greeted millions of immigrants to this country since her dedication Oct. 28, 1886. The Statue of Liberty has been known as a symbol of freedom and a new way of life. Yet, she and her symbols hold a deeper meaning than is first observable.
The mythical Goddess of Liberty was actually known as early as the third century B.C. by the Romans. She was employed as a symbol of freedom from slavery and was represented as a robed figure holding a scepter (a symbol of royal authority), a cat and broken jug at her feet (these were symbols of confinement). She was crowned by a Phrygian bonnet, which was bestowed upon slaves when they were granted their freedom.
The crown is a symbol of sovereignty, honor, glory and victory; by rising above the head it symbolizes the idea of preeminence. Crowns used in ancient Rome and Greece were made of tree leaves and berries. They were given as awards for athletic or musical achievements or distinguished service to the country. The early Christians adapted the crown for martyrs, symbolizing victory over adversities.
There are a variety of meanings and representations of crowns. For instance, a nimbus was originally a radiant crown of seven canonical rays, the rays representing the sun’s radiance to the seven planets (which were the only known planets at that time).
Miss Liberty wears a crown of seven rays – which enlighten the seven continents and seas of the world. Originally, the statue was appropriately called ‘Liberty enlightening the World.’
The statue first served as a lighthouse. The lighted torch – the first ray of hope for many immigrants – could be seen from the sea upon approaching America.