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Saint symbology

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Saints withtheiremblems

Dutch Book of Prayers from the mid-fifteenth century. Group of five saints. From left to right, Saint Joseph, Saint James the Great, Saint Eligius, Saint Hermes, and Saint Ghislain, with their emblems.

Christianity has used symbolism from its very beginnings.[1] Each saint has a story and a reason why he or she led an exemplary life. Symbols have been used to tell these stories throughout the history of the Church. 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. 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. 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. Many of the most prominent saints, like Saint Peter and Saint John the Evangelist can also be recognised by a distinctive facial type - as of course can Christ. In the case of later saints their actual historical appearance can also be used. Some attributes are general, like the palm frond carried by martyrs.

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.

The list Edit



Top of pageSee alsoExternal links

A Edit

Francisco de Zurbarán 031

St. Agatha

Saint Symbol
Acathius of MeliteneCrown of Thorns
Agatha of Sicilytongs or shears, veil, bells, two breasts on a plate
Ambrosebees, beehive, dove, ox, pen
Andrewtransverse cross
Anne, grandmother of Jesusdoor, book, red robe and green mantle
Anthony the Greatmonk's habit, bell, pig
Anthony of PaduaChild Jesus, bread, book, lily
Augustine of Hippodove, child, shell, pen, book

B Edit


tablet or sun inscribed with IHS

Saint Symbol
Barbaratower, ciborium, cannon
Bartholomew the Apostleknife
Benedictbroken cup, raven, bell, crosier, bush
Bernard of Clairvauxpen, bees, instruments of the Passion
Bernardino of Sienatablet or sun inscribed with IHS, three mitres
Blaisewax, taper (candle), iron comb
Bonaventurecommunion, ciborium, cardinal's hat
Bonifaceoak, axe, book, fox, scourge,fountain, raven, sword
Bridget of Swedenbook, pilgrim's staff
Brigid of Kildarecow, crosier, Brigid's cross

C Edit

Catz shield

The college shield of St Catharine's College, Cambridge, prominently depicting a Catherine wheel.

Saint Symbol
Catherine of Alexandriawheel, a crown
Catherine of Ricciring, crown, crucifix
Catherine of Sienastigmata, cross, ring, lily
Charles Borromeocardinal's robes, communion
Christophergiant crudely dressed, torrent, tree, branch or large staff, Carrying the Child Jesus on shoulder
Clare of Assisimonstrance
Clement anchor, fish, Mariner's Cross
Corbinian saddled bear
Saints Cosmas and Damiana phial, box of ointment
Cyriacusdeacon's vestments

D Edit

Mariner's Cross

Mariner's Cross

Saint Symbol
Denishead in hands
David of Walesharp
Dorothy of Caesareaflowers
Saint Dominicrosary, star
Dunstanhammer, tongs

E Edit



Saint Symbol
Edmund the Martyrquiver of arrows
Saint Eligius bishop portrayed with a crosier in his right hand, on the open palm of his left a miniature church of chased gold; with a hammer,anvil, and horseshoe; or with a horse
Elisabeth of Hungaryalms, flowers, bread, the poor, pitcher
Emilianusmonk on horseback
Elizabeth of Portugalcrown
Erasmus of Formiaewindlass
Eustacehunting clothes, stag, bull, crucifix, horn, oven

F Edit

Thaddeus mosaic

Symbol of the martyrdom of Judas Thaddeus

Saint Symbol
Francis of Assisiwolf, birds, fish, skull, stigmata
Francis Xaviercrucifix, bell, vessel, crab with a cross

G Edit

Saint Symbol
Gabriel is archangel, trumpet, armour, wings, scroll stating “Ave Maria Gratia Plena”
Genesiusdrama masks
Genevievelit candle, bread, keys, herd, cattle
Georgedragon,soldier or knight in armour, often on white horse, especially in the East
Gertrude of Nivellescrown, tapir, lily,mouse
GilesBenedictine habit, hind
Gregory the GreatPapal Tiara, crosier, dove (often portrayed at his ear)

H Edit


A "fiddleback" chasuble from the church of Saint Gertrude in Maarheeze in the Netherlands

Saint Symbol
Hippolytus of RomePapal Tiara
Hippolytus the soldiermilitary garb, horse's harness
Honoratus of Amiensbaker's peel or shovel; bishop with a large Host; bishop with three Hosts on a baker's shovel; loaves

I Edit

Saint Symbol
Ignatius of Antiocha bishop surrounded by lions or in chains
Ignatius of LoyolaEucharist, chasuble, book, cross.
Imerius of Immertalhermit's garb and bird of prey
Irene of Tomarpalm of martyrdom
Isidore of Sevillebees, pen, book
Ivo of Kermartindepicted as a lawyer, holding a document, in legal dress.

J Edit


IHS monogram of the name of Jesus

Lilium candidum 1


Saint Symbol
James, son of Zebedeepilgrim's staff, scallop shell, key, sword
James, son of Alphaeus / James the Justsquare rule, halberd, club, saw
Jeromelion, cardinal clothing, cross, skull, books and writing material
Joan of Arcshield, Cross of Lorraine
Saint Joannalamb
John BerchmansRule of Saint Ignatius, cross, rosary
John Chrysostombees, dove, pen
John of Godalms, heart, Crown of Thorns
John the Baptistlamb, head on a platter, animal skin (the camel-skin coat of the Gospels), pointing at Christ or a lamb, often portrayed carryiing a long crudely made cross
John the Evangelisteagle, chalice sometimes with a snake in it, kettle, book
Joseph, spouse of MaryChild Jesus, lily, rod, plane, carpentry square, purple robe and brown mantle
Juan Diegotilma
Jude the Apostlesword, square rule, club, ship
Justin Martyraxe, sword
Juthwararound soft cheese

K Edit

Saint Symbol
Kateri Tekakwithaturtle, lily
Kevin of Glendaloughblackbird
Knut of DenmarkNordic king with royal insignia, dagger, lance or arrow.

L Edit

Old bracelets (aka)


Saint Symbol
Lawrence of Romecross, Gospel Book, gridiron, palm frond, purse of money
Leander of Sevillepen
Leonard of Noblaclock, chain, manacles or fetters
Liborius of Le Manspebbles, peacock
Louis IX of FranceCrown of Thorns, nails
Lucycord, [:File:Saint Lucy by Domenico di Pace Beccafumi.jpg|eyes on a dish], lamp
Luke the Evangelistox, book, brush, palette

M Edit

Shovel black


Saint Symbol
Margaret the Virgindragon in chains
Mark the Evangelistwinged lion, book
Marthaholy water sprinkler, dragon
Martin of Toursgoose
Mary Magdalenejar of ointment
Matilda of Ringelheimpurse, alms
Matthew the Evangelistwinged man, purse, lance
Maurusscales, spade, crutch
Michaelscales, banner, sword, dragon
Monicagirdle, tears

N Edit


three purses or balls

Saint Symbol
Nicholasthree purses or balls, anchor, boat, child

O Edit

Saint Symbol
Oda of Scotlanddepicted wearing a long blue gown with one shoulder bare; usually carries a staff or a book; always shown with a magpie on her hand and a crown under her feet

P Edit

Baptismal Font Magdeburg

Baptismal font in Magdeburg Cathedral, Germany.

Saint Symbol
Pantaleonnailed hands
Paraskevieyeballs on a plate
Patrickcross, harp, serpent, baptismal font, demons, shamrock
Paul the Apostlesword, book or scroll, horse Long, pointed beard; balding backwards from forehad. Green robe, red mantle.
Peterkeys, boat, rooster, square white beard and short, curling white hair, bald on top. Blue robe and yellow mantle.
Saint Peter of Veronabloodied head (either left bleeding, or partially penetrated)
Petronillaset of keys, dolphin
Philip the Apostlecolumn
Philip Nerilily

Q Edit

Saint Symbol
Quentin broken wheel
Quiteriadepicted with a dog on a lead; depicted with her head in her hands, emerging from the sea.

R Edit


Angel holding the sun at the Bordeaux cathedral

Saint Symbol
Rita of Casciaroses, roses and figs,crucifix, thorn, sometimes with a wound in her forehead
Rochangel, dog, bread
Rose of LimaCrown of Thorns, anchor, city, roses

S Edit

Saint Symbol
Sebastianarrows, crown
Simoncrossed oars, saw

T Edit


Neo-Gothic "solar" monstrance at the hermitage church of Warfhuizen.

Saint Symbol
Teresa of Ávilaheart, arrow, book
Teresa of the Andessmall cross, flowers
Thérèse de Lisieuxroses entwining a crucifix
Thomas Aquinasmonstrance, dove, ox
Thomas the Apostlelance, axe, square rule
Thomas Moreaxe

U Edit

Saint Symbol
Urbanportrayed in art after his beheading, with the Papal Tiara near him
Urban of Langresbishop with a bunch of grapes or a vine at his side; a book with a wine vessel on it
Ursicinusbook and Fleur-de-lis
Ursus of Aostabirds on his shoulder; wearing fur pelisse in a religious habit

V Edit


A traditional biretta

Saint Symbol
Vedastwolf carrying a goose in its mouth; child; bear
Victor of Marseilleswindmill
Vigilius of Trentshoes or clogs
Vincent de Paulchildren
Vincent Ferrerpulpit, cardinal's hat, trumpet, captives
Vituscross, rooster, lion

W Edit

Crosiere of arcbishop Heinrich of Finstingen

Crosier of arcbishop Heinrich of Finstingen, 1260-1286

Saint Symbol
William of Montevergine wolf and pastoral crook
Winnochand-mill, bridge, grinding corn
Wolfgang of Regensburg a church building with an adze lodged in the roof, a wolf

X Edit

Saint Symbol
Xystus martyr's palm

Y Edit


Mitre of Bishop Sztojkovics, Hungary, ca. 1860, stolen in 1989

Saint Symbol
Yrieix Bishop's Mitre

Z Edit

Saint Symbol
ZacharyMaking peace with King Luitprand. Sometimes he may have an olive branch and a dove over him
Zenobius of Florenceflowering tree; bringing a dead man or child back to life
Zitabag, keys

Further readingEdit

  • Walsh, Michael (2007). A New Dictionary of Saints: East and West. Liturgical Press. ISBN 9780814631867. 

See alsoEdit

Croix de Lorraine

Cross of Lorraine

External linksEdit


  1. Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), article Symbolism
hu:Szentek ismertetőjegyeipt:Simbologia dos Santos

ru:Символы святых sv:Helgonattribut

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