Saint symbolism

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Dutch Book of Prayers from the mid-fifteenth century showing a group of five saints, with their emblems: Saint James the Great (wearing a pilgrim's hat); Saint Joseph; Saint Ghislain (holding a church); Saint Eligius (bishop with a crosier, holding a hammer); Saint Hermes (with the armor and the sword)

Symbolism of Christian saints has been used from the very beginnings of the religion.[1] Each saint is said to have led an exemplary life and symbols have been used to tell these stories throughout the history of the Church.[2] A number of Christian saints are traditionally represented by a symbol or iconic motif associated with their life, termed an attribute or emblem, in order to identify them. The study of these forms part of iconography in art history.[3] They were particularly used so that the illiterate could recognize a scene, and to give each of the Saints something of a personality in art.[2] They are often carried in the hand by the Saint.

Attributes often vary with either time or geography, especially between Eastern Christianity and the West. Orthodox images more often contained inscriptions with the names of saints, so the Eastern repertoire of attributes is generally smaller than the Western.[c] Many of the most prominent saints, like Saint Peter and Saint John the Evangelist can also be recognised by a distinctive facial type. Some attributes are general, such as the martyr's palm.[4] The use of a symbol in a work of art depicting a Saint reminds people who is being shown and of their story. The following is a list of some of these attributes.

Four Evangelists[edit]

The symbols of the four Evangelists are here depicted in the Book of Kells. The winged man, lion, eagle and bull symbolize, clockwise from top left, Matthew, Mark, John, and Luke.
Saint Symbol[5]
Matthew winged man or angel
Mark winged lion
Luke winged bull
John eagle

The Apostles[edit]

Saint Symbol
Andrew St. Andrew's cross[a], discalced, with fish or a rope
Bartholomew the Apostle knife, bears his own skin in hand[a]
James, son of Zebedee pilgrim's staff, scallop shell, key, sword, pilgrim's hat, astride a white charger, Cross of Saint James[a]
James, son of Alphaeus/James the Just square rule, halberd, club, saw[a]
John evangelistary, a serpent in a chalice, cauldron, eagle[a]
Jude sword, square rule, club, ship[a]
Judas Iscariot thirty pieces of silver[a]
Matthew angel, evangelistary[a]
Peter Keys of Heaven, boat, fish, rooster, pallium, papal vestments; crucified head downwards on an inverted cross, holding a book or scroll, with a bushy beard and hair.[a]
Philip column; holding a basket of loaves and a Tau Cross[a]
Simon boat; cross and saw; fish (or two fishes); lance; being sawn in two longitudinally; oar[a]
Thomas placing his finger in the side of Christ, axe, spear, carpentry tools [a]

Mary, mother of Jesus[edit]

Mary is often portrayed wearing blue. Her attributes include amongst many others a mantle (often in blue or very large to cover the faithful), crown of 12 stars, serpent, sun and/or moon, heart pierced by sword, Madonna lily, roses, and rosary beads.[6]

Title Symbol
Black Madonna of Częstochowa Black Madonna in Hodegetria form, Infant Jesus, fleur-de-lis robes, slashes on right cheek
Immaculate Heart of Mary Burning bloodied heart, pierced with a sword, banded with roses, and lily flowers
Our Lady of Aparecida In traditional form of Immaculate Conception [citation needed]
Our Lady of Camarin Mary on crescent moon[citation needed]
Our Lady of Candelaria Black Madonna with candle in one hand, and Infant Jesus in the other hand. Jesus carries a small bird in his hands.[citation needed]
Our Lady of Charity Carrying the Christ child and holding a crucifix atop an inverted crescent moon, with triple cherubs, encrusted with jewels and golden crown and aureole halo, embroidered gold mantle with the Cuban flag[citation needed]
Our Lady the Garden Enclosed Statue of Our Lady of Sorrows holding a white handkerchief, gold crown and jewelry, richly embroidered mantle[citation needed]
Our Lady of Copacabana Blessed Virgin Mary, Inca dress and crown, Infant Jesus, straw basket, pigeons, baton, gold Quechua jewelry[citation needed]
Our Lady of Cotoca white embroidered mantle, gold crown and jewelry, scapuler[citation needed]
Our Lady of Fátima dressed in white, giving out rays of clear and intense light[7]
Our Lady of Good Counsel with the Infant Jesus, in their touching halo appear the words SS. Mater Boni consilii, ora pro nobis Jesum filium tuum
Our Lady of Guadalupe eyes downcast, hands clasped in prayer, clothed in a pink tunic robe covered by a cerulean mantle with a black sash, emblazoned with eight-point stars; eclipsing a blazing sun while standing atop a darkened crescent moon, a cherubic angel carrying her train
Our Lady of Humility Mary seated low to the ground, usually holding the baby Jesus[8]
Our Lady of Itatí in prayer, with blue embroidered mantle, solar crown, veil[citation needed]
Our Lady of Lebanon Blessed Virgin Mary with outstretched hands, bronze crown[citation needed]
Our Lady of Lourdes dressed in a flowing white robe, with a blue sash around her waist[9]
Our Lady of Luján in prayer, with a golden crown, embroidered blue mantle over white robe, sliver of moon[citation needed]
Our Lady of Navigators held by angels, with mantle, jewelry, crown, halo of stars; the Infant Jesus is holding an anchor [citation needed]
Our Lady of Peace Virgin MaryInfant Jesus; she holds an olive branch and dove[10]
Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage dark complexion, enlarged iris, unbound hair[citation needed]
Our Lady of Peñafrancia halo with Circle of 12 stars, Crown, Holy Child, Mantum[citation needed]
Our Lady of Piat dark complexion, the Child Jesus, rosary, crown, flowers[citation needed]
Our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos in prayer, with golden crown, white gown, blue mantle, silver banner held by angels[citation needed]
Our Lady of Sorrows in mournful state, tears, bleeding heart pierced by seven swords [b]
Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, Queen of the Caracol with the Infant Jesus in a royal regalia, rosary and baton[citation needed]
Our Lady of the Rosary of Chiquinquirá standing on a crescent moon, blue cloak, white veil, holding the Infant Jesus. With bird, rosary, scepter, accompanied by Saints Anthony of Padua and Andrew[citation needed]
Our Lady of the Rosary with the Infant Jesus, crown, rosary[citation needed]
Our Lady of the Visitation of Guibang ivory statue[citation needed]
Our Lady of Vendôme with the Infant Jesus[citation needed]
Our Mother of Sheshan standing on top a Chinese dragon, with the Infant Jesus in cruciform gesture[citation needed]
Rosa Mystica with a rose[citation needed]
Queen of Heaven with a crown of stars, flowers[a]
Virgen de los Remedios de Pampanga The Blessed Virgin Mary encrusted with jewels, golden crown, aureole and moon.[citation needed]
Virgen del Valle Mary in a white dress[citation needed]
Virgin of Mercy sheltering people under her mantle[11]
Virgin of Miracles Gothic alabaster carving of Mary with a baby[12]
Virgin of Montserrat Statue painted in polychrome of Mary with a baby seated on the Throne of Wisdom holding an orb of the earth in her right hand[13]
Virgin of the Thirty-Three assumpted into heaven, white robe, blue cloak, golden bejeweled crown, sliver of moon held by cherubs[citation needed]
Our Lady of Mount Carmel dressed in the colors of the Carmelite habit, wearing the mantle of the Carmelite habit, holding a brown scapular, sometimes handing it to Saint Simon Stock

Saints listed by name[edit]

Saints (A–H)

Saints (I–P)

Saints (Q–Z)

See also[edit]


  1. "List of saints". Catholic Online. Your Catholic Voice Foundation.
  2. Stracke, Richard (October 20, 2015). "Iconography". Christian Iconography.
  3. Rabenstein, Katherine (April 1999). "Saint of the Day Master Index". St. Patrick Catholic Church. Archived from the original on April 20, 2018.


  1. ^  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Symbolism". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  2. ^ a b Mayernik, David T. (2018). "A Vast, Immeasurable Sanctuary: Iconography for Churches". Sacred Architecture Journal. 5: 22.
  3. ^ "Eastern Orthodox and Catholic teaching about Icons".
  4. ^ Hassett, M. (1911). "Palm in Christian Symbolism". The Catholic Encyclopedia.
  5. ^ Saint Jerome; St. Jerome (December 2008). Commentary on Matthew (The Fathers of the Church, Volume 117). CUA Press. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-8132-0117-7.
  6. ^ Kugeares, Sophia Manoulian (1991). Images Of The Annunciation Of The Virgin Mary Of The 13th, 14th And 15th Century.
  7. ^ Arcement, Katherine (October 13, 2017). "Our Lady of Fatima: The Virgin Mary promised three kids a miracle that 70,000 gathered to see". Washington Post.
  8. ^ Earls, Irene. Renaissance art: a topical dictionary, 1987 ISBN 0-313-24658-0 p. 174
  9. ^ Harris, Ruth (1999). Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age. Penguin Books. p. 43. ISBN 0-71-399186-0.
  10. ^ "The Saga of Our Lady of Peace". Hawaii Catholic Herald. July 4, 2014. Archived from the original on October 18, 2022. Retrieved October 18, 2022.
  11. ^ Hall, James, 1983. A History of Ideas and Images in Italian Art, John Murray, London, ISBN 0-7195-3971-4
  12. ^ Garcia, Sebastián (1998). "La Rábida, pórtico del nuevo mundo." Síntesis histórico-artística. Comunidad Franciscana del Convento de Santa María de la Rábida. pp. Chapter VII., La imagen de Santa María de la Rábida. Págs. 147–171. ISBN 84-604-1032-3. ().
  13. ^ Roccosalvo C.S.J., Joan L. (Spring 2012). "Elegance Personified: The Black Madonna of Montserrat". Sacred Architecture Journal.

Further reading[edit]

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