Saint Symbolism
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Saint Symbolism
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 they led an exemplary life. 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. Many of the most prominent saints, like Saint Peter and Saint John the Evangelist can also be recognised by a distinctive facial type - as can Christ. In the case of later saints their actual historical appearance can also be used; Saint Bernardino of Siena (1380-1444) is one of the earliest whose distinctive appearance was well known from early prints and is nearly always used by artists. Some attributes are general, such as the palm frond carried by martyrs.[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

The symbols of the four Evangelists are here depicted in the Book of Kells. The four winged creatures symbolize, clockwise from top left, Matthew, Mark, John, and Luke.

The Apostles

Saint Symbol
Andrew saltire[a]
Bartholomew the Apostle knife, human skin[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 book, a serpent in a chalice, cauldron, eagle[a]
Jude sword, square rule, club, ship[a]
Judas Iscariot thirty pieces of silver[a]
Matthew angel[a]
Peter Keys of Heaven, boat, fish, rooster, pallium, papal vestments; man crucified head downwards on an inverted cross, vested as an Apostle, holding a book or scroll. Iconographically, he is depicted with a bushy white beard and white hair, and wearing a blue robe and yellow mantle.[a]
Philip column; elderly bearded saint and open to God man, holding a basket of loaves and a Tau Cross[a]
Simon boat; cross and saw; fish (or two fishes); lance; man being sawn in two longitudinally; oar[a]
Thomas the twin, placing his finger in the side of Christ, axe, spear (means of martyrdom), square (his profession, a builder)[a]

Mary, mother of Jesus

Mary is often portrayed wearing blue. Her attributes include a blue mantle, crown of 12 stars, pregnant woman, woman with child, woman trampling serpent, crescent moon, woman clothed with the sun, heart pierced by sword, Madonna lily, roses, and rosary beads.[6]

Saint Symbol
Our Lady of Sorrows Mary in mournful state, tears, bleeding heart pierced by seven daggers[b]
Queen of Heaven Mary with a crown of stars, flowers[a]

Saints listed by name





Saint Symbol
Daniel lion[a]
David of Scotland king with sword or sceptre[a]
David of Wales dove[a]
Demetrius Depicted wearing the armor of a Roman soldier, usually carrying a spear, often seated on a red horse[a]
Denis head in hands[a]
Dominic rosary[a] , star, dog with a torch[10]
Dominic de la Calzada hen and rooster, monastic habit, prayer beads, shepherd's crook[b]
Dorothea of Caesarea flowers, fruits[11]
Dunstan hammer, tongs[a]
Dymphna crown, sword, lily, lamp, princess with a fettered devil at her feet[a]


Saint Symbol
Earconwald bishop travelling in a chariot[a]
Edmund the Martyr quiver of arrows[a]
Edward the Confessor king crowned with a nimbus and holding a sceptre[a]
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[a]
Elijah cave[a]
Elisabeth of Hungary alms, flowers, bread, the poor, pitcher[a]
Emeric sword, lily[7]
Emilianus monk on horseback[a]
Elizabeth of Aragon crown[a]
Erasmus of Formiae windlass[a]
Eric of Sweden king being martyred at Mass[a]
Eustace hunting clothes, stag, bull, crucifix, horn, oven[a]


Saint Symbol
Faith Shield of the Trinity[a]
Felix of Burgundy anchor[a]
Fiacre spade, basket of vegetables[a]
Florian Cross of Saint Florian; Roman officer or soldier; pitcher of water; pouring water over fire[12]
Florinus of Remüs bottle, glass of wine[a]
Fourteen Holy Helpers Saints Acacius, Barbara, Blaise, Christopher, Cyriacus, Catherine of Alexandria, Denis, Erasmus of Formiae, Eustace, George, Giles, Margaret of Antioch, Pantaleon, and Vitus, shown as a group.[b]
Francis of Assisi wolf, birds, fish, skull, stigmata[a]
Francis Xavier crucifix, bell, vessel, crab with a cross[a]


Saint Symbol
Gabriel Archangel;[13] Clothed in blue or white garments; Carrying a lily,[14] a trumpet, a shining lantern, a branch from Paradise, a scroll,[14] and a scepter.[14], scroll stating "Ave Maria Gratia Plena"[15][a]
Gall an abbot blessing a bear that brings him a log of wood; may be shown holding a hermit's tau staff with the bear or carrying a loaf and a pilgrim's staff.<[16]
Genesius theatre mask[a]
Genevieve lit candle, bread, keys, herd, cattle[a]
George dragon, soldier or knight in armour, often on white horse, especially in the East, Cross of Saint George[a]
Gerard of Csanád Bishop being killed by a spear[a]
Gertrude of Nivelles crown, tapir, lily, mouse[a]
Gervasius and Protasius the scourge, the club and the sword[b]
Giles Benedictine habit, hind[a]
Godelieve crown, well, woman being strangled[b]
Gotthard of Hildesheim dragon; model of a church[17]
Gregory the Great papal tiara, crosier, dove (often portrayed at his ear)[a]


Saint Symbol
Helena wearing a royal crown while supporting a cross[a]
Hermann Joseph kneeling before a statue of the Virgin and Child and offering an apple[a]
Hermenegild axe, crown, sword, and cross [b]
Hilary of Poitiers episcopal vestments, a mitre and crozier, and a beard, usually white and often long[b]
Hippolytus of Rome papal tiara[a]
Hippolytus the soldier military garb, horse's harness[a]
Honoratus of Amiens baker's peel or shovel; bishop with a large Host; bishop with three Hosts on a baker's shovel; loaves[a]
Hugh of Lincoln swan[a]
Humility dressed as a nun [a]
Hyacinth of Poland statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary; Monstrance or Ciborium [b]


Saint Symbol
Ignatius of Antioch a bishop surrounded by lions or in chains[a]
Ignatius of Loyola Eucharist, chasuble with Jesuit-style collar, book often inscribed with "Ad majorem Dei gloriam", or the letters AMDG, the letters "ihs" with a cross across the h (traditionally with three nails below the letters, and the letters and nails surrounded by the sun's rays), sword, cross.[a]
Imerius of Immertal hermit's garb and bird of prey[a]
Irene of Tomar palm of martyrdom[a]
Isaiah An old man with gray hair and beard holding a scroll with words from Isaiah 7:14, (in Latin) ecce virgo concipiet et pariet filium et vocabitur nomen eius Emmanuel, "behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be Emmanuel[b]
Isidore the Laborer Portrayed as a peasant holding a sickle and a sheaf of corn, a sickle and staff; as an angel plows for him; or with an angel and white oxen near him. In Spanish art, his emblems are a spade or a plough.[18]
Isidore of Seville bees, pen, book[a]
Ivo of Kermartin depicted as a lawyer, holding a document, in legal dress.[a]



Saint Symbol
Kateri Tekakwitha turtle, lily[a][b]
Katharine Drexel woman dressed as a nun[a]
Kentigern bishop with a robin on his shoulder; holding a bell and a fish with a ring in its mouth[19]
Kevin of Glendalough blackbird[a]
Kilian wearing a bishop's mitre and wielding a sword[a]
Kinga of Poland depicted as an abbess; crown[a]
Kjeld of Viborg Priest with book[a]
Knut of Denmark Nordic king with royal insignia, dagger, lance or arrow.[a]
Koloman pilgrim monk with a rope in his hand; depicted being hanged on a gibbet; tongs and rod; priest with a book and maniple[b]


Saint Symbol
Lambert of Maastricht palm of martyrdom[a], sword[b]
Lawrence of Rome cross, Gospel Book, gridiron, palm frond, purse of money, attired as a deacon in a dalmatic, accompanied by a group of poor people.[b]
Leander of Seville pen[a]
Leonard of Noblac lock, chain, manacles or fetters[b]
Liborius of Le Mans pebbles, peacock[b]
Longinus Military attire, lance[b]
Louis IX of France royal attire of crown and blue robe decorated with golden fleur-de-lis, crown of thorns, nails[b]
Louis Bertrand a chalice containing a snake [b]
Louis of Toulouse silk gloves and a richly embroidered cape with a jeweled clasp at the neck[b]
Lucy cord, eyes on a dish, lamp[a]


Saint Symbol
Margaret of Scotland reading[a]
Margaret the Virgin dragon in chains[a]
Maria Goretti fourteen lilies; farmer's clothing; (occasionally) a knife[a]
Martha aspergillum, dragon[a]
Martin of Tours goose; sharing cloak with beggar[a]
Martin de Porres broom, a cat, dog and a mouse eating from the same plate[7]
Mary Magdalene jar of ointment, red egg[a]
Matilda purse, alms[a]
Maurice soldier in armour, banner with red cross[a]
Maurus scales, spade, crutch[a]
Menas of Crete two camels[a]
Michael scales, banner, sword, dragon[a]
Monica girdle, tears[a]


Saint Symbol
Neot fish[a]
Nicholas three purses or balls, anchor, boat, child[a]
Nicholas of Tolentino Augustinian holding a bird on a plate in the right hand and a crucifix on the other hand; holding a basket of bread, giving bread to a sick person; holding a lily or a crucifix garlanded with lilies; with a star above him or on his breast[b]
Nicolás Factor Franciscan habit, skull, fire [b]
Pope Nicholas I rooster[20]
Ninian Clogrinny, or the Bell of St. Ninian[a]
Norbert of Xanten monstrance, cross with two beams[a]


Saint Symbol
Obadiah Prophet with his index finger of his right hand pointing upward[b]
Oda of Scotland depicted 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[a]
Odile of Alsace Abbess praying before an altar; woman with a book on which lie two eyes; larkspur[b]
Olaf of Norway axe in Norway's coat of arms, king with axe in a Viking boat[a]
Onuphrius old hermit dressed only in long hair and a loincloth of leaves; hermit with an angel bringing him the Eucharist or bread; hermit with a crown at his feet
Opportuna of Montreuil depicted carrying an abbess's crozier and a casket of relics. She may also be shown with the Virgin appearing at her deathbed or as a princess with a basket of cherries and a fleur-de-lys[21]
Osgyth represented in art with a stag behind her and a long key hanging from her girdle, or otherwise carrying a key and a sword crossed, a device which commemorates St. Peter, St. Paul and St. Andrew[22]


Saint Symbol
Pancras sword, palm branch[a]
Pantaleon nailed hands[a]
Patrick cross, harp, serpent, baptismal font, demons, shamrock[a]
Paul the Apostle sword, book or scroll, horse; long, pointed beard, and balding backwards from forehead. Green robe, red mantle.[a]
Peter of Saint Joseph de Betancur Bell, Franciscan habit and spear canary pastor.[a]
Saint Peter of Verona Dominican with a hatchet in his head or a severe head wound; or writing the words "Credo in unum Deum" as he dies[a]
Petronilla set of keys, dolphin[a]
Philip Neri lily[a]
Philomena anchor, palm, arrows[a]


Saint Symbol
Quentin depicted as a young man with two spits; as a deacon; with a broken wheel; with a chair to which he is transfixed; with a sword; or beheaded, a dove flying from his severed head[a]
Quiricus depicted as a naked child riding on a wild boar[a]
Quirinus of Malmedy dragon[23]
Quirinus of Neuss military attire; knight with lance, sword, hawk; banner or sign with nine balls[a]
Quirinus of Sescia millstone hanging from his neck[b]
Quiteria depicted with a dog on a lead; depicted with her head in her hands, emerging from the sea.[a]


Saint Symbol
Raphael fish[b]
Raymond Nonnatus A Mercedarian friar wearing a cardinal's red mozzetta, holding a monstrance and a martyr's palm branch [b]
Raymond of Penyafort skimming across the sea with his cape as both boat and sail[b]
Remigius dove, book, lamp[b]
Reparata Standing alone or near St. Mary, bearing a martyr's crown and palm; a dove; a banner with a red cross on a white field; sometimes depicted with St. Ansanus[24]
Richard bishop with overturned chalice[a]
Rita of Cascia roses, roses and figs, crucifix, thorn, sometimes with a wound in her forehead[a]
Roch angel, dog with bread, leg wound, pilgrim's dress[a]
Rosalia of Palermo Depicted as a young woman, sometimes holding a cross, book, or skull, and also a spray of lilies[b]
Rose of Lima crown of thorns, anchor, city, roses, crown of roses[a]
Rufina and Justa A model of the Giralda; earthenware pots, bowls and platters; books on which are two lumps of potter's clay; palm of martyrdom; lion[b]


Saint Symbol
Sativola scythe, well[a]
Sava of Serbia book[a]
Sebastian arrows, crown[a]
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego fiery furnace[b]
Spyridon of Corfu bishop with Gospel; long, pointed beard, and wearing a shepherd's hat[a]
Stanislaus of Szczepanów sword[a]
Stanis?aw Kazimierczyk Priest's attire[a]
Stephen the Martyr stone(s)[a]
Stephen of Hungary royal attire of crown and robes, and holding orb or sceptre with double cross[7]
Swithun bishop with bridge, broken eggs[a]


Saint Symbol
Teresa of Ávila heart, arrow, look[a]
Teresa of the Andes small cross, flowers[a]
Theodore crocodile[a]
Thérèse de Lisieux roses entwining a crucifix[a]
Thomas Aquinas monstrance, dove, ox[a]
Thomas Becket sword, and wearing chancellor's robe and neck chain[a]
Thomas More axe[a]
Timothy three stones and a clubclub and stones; broken image of Diana[25]
Trudpert axe[a]
Tudwal dragon[a]


Saint Symbol
Ulrich of Augsburg Bishop holding a fish; at dinner with Saint Wolfgang; rewarding a messenger with a goose leg, which turns into a fish on Friday morning; giving a garment to a beggar; with Saint Afra; riding through a river on horseback as his companion sinks; with a cross given him by an angel[b]
Urban portrayed in art after his beheading, with the papal tiara near him[a]
Urban of Langres bishop with a bunch of grapes or a vine at his side; a book with a wine vessel on it[a]
Ursicinus book and fleur-de-lis[a]
Ursula arrow; banner; cloak; clock; maiden shot with arrows; depicted accompanied by a varied number of companions who are being martyred in various ways; ship[a]
Ursus of Aosta birds on his shoulder; wearing fur pelisse in a religious habit[a]


Saint Symbol
Valentine Birds; roses; bishop with a crippled person or a child with epilepsy at his feet; bishop with a rooster nearby; bishop refusing to adore an idol; bishop being beheaded; priest bearing a sword; priest holding a sun; priest giving sight to a blind girl[26]
Vedast wolf carrying a goose in its mouth; child; bear[a]
Venera crown; book; palm; cross; a palm of martyrdom interlaced with a triple crown (signifying the fact that she was a Virgin, an Apostle, and a Martyr{[b]
Verdiana snakes[a]
Veronica Veil of Veronica[a]
Victor of Marseilles windmill[a]
Vigilius of Trent shoes or clogs[a]
Vincent de Paul children[a]
Vincent Ferrer pulpit, cardinal's hat, trumpet, captives[a]
Vitus cross, rooster, lion[a]




Saint Symbol
Yrieix bishop's mitre[a]


Saint Symbol
Zachary Making peace with King Luitprand. Sometimes he may have an olive branch and a dove over him [a]
Zenobius of Florence flowering tree; bringing a dead man or child back to life[a]
Zita bag, keys[a]

Plants in symbolism

Flower Symbol Reason
Acacia A symbol of the immortality of the soul durability of the wood [d]
Almond A symbol of divine approval From the Book of Numbers "The next day Moses entered the Tent of the Testimony and saw that Aaron's staff, which represented the house of Levi, had not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed and produced almonds." [d][27]
Anemone crucifixion scenes and have been associated with the sorrow of Virgin Mary these flowers grew at Golgotha[c]
Columbine Holy Spirit The name "columbine" comes from the Latin for "dove", due to the resemblance of the inverted flower to five doves clustered together.[28][c]
Daisy innocence, beauty, salvation, modesty, purity and love simplicity[c]
Hyacinth prudence, constancy, desire of heaven and peace of mind From the story of Hyacinthus, upon whose death the flower sprung forth.[29]
Iris Our Lady of Sorrows sharp leaves like swords [c]
Lily virtues of justice, charity and hope; also the Holy Trinity, the Madonna lily is specific to Mary lilies with three petals [c]
Palm branch Martyrdom symbol of victory in that war waged by the spirit against the flesh
Passionflower Crucifixion of Jesus each part of the flower represents a different aspect of the Passion of Christ [c]
Rose Mary queen of flowers [c][30]
White clover Holy Trinity Three petals that compose a flower [c]
White tulip Holy Spirit White tulips are used to send a message of forgiveness[31]

Further reading

  • Delaney, John P. (1980). Dictionary of Saints (Second ed.). Garden City, NY: Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-13594-7.
  • Lanzi, Fernando; Lanzi, Gioia (2004-09-01). Saints and their Symbols: Recognizing Saints in Art and in Popular Images. Translated by O'Connell, Matthew J. ISBN 9780814629703.
  • Post, W. Ellwood (1975). Saints, Signs and Symbols (2 ed.). SPCK Publishing. ISBN 9780281028948.
  • Schiller, Gertrud (1971). Iconography of Christian Art. 1. ISBN 978-0821203651.
  • Walsh, Michael (2007). A New Dictionary of Saints: East and West. Liturgical Press. ISBN 978-0-8146-3186-7.
  • Whittemore, Carroll E. (1980). Symbols of the Church. Abingdon Press. ISBN 0687183014.

See also

External links


  1. "List of saints". Catholic Online.
  2. "Iconography". Christian Iconography. 2015-10-20.
  3. Kostka, Arun Oswin. "Flowers in Christian Symbolism".
  4. Gast, Walter E. (2000). "Symbols in Christian Art and Architecture".


  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. ^ a b c d Stracke, Richard (2015-10-20). "Hungarian Saints: Adalbert, Martin, Stanislas, Emeric and Stephen". Christian Iconography.
  8. ^ Fongemie, Pauly. "SYMBOLS IN ART". Catholic tradition. Retrieved .
  9. ^ "L'Osservatore Romano publishes new Papal coat of arms". Catholic News Agency. 2005-04-28. Retrieved .
  10. ^ Libellus de principiis, citing the story of his birth
  11. ^ "Saint Dorothy of Caesarea". Patron Saints Index. 2008-03-18. Archived from the original on 2008-03-18.
  12. ^ Mendler, Mitch. "Saint Florian - the patron saint of the fire service". Retrieved .
  13. ^ Zimmerman, Julie. "Friar Jack's Catechism Quiz: Test Your Knowledge on Angels". Archived from the original on 21 May 2012. Retrieved 2012.
  14. ^ a b c Ronner, John (March 1993). Know Your Angels: The Angel Almanac With Biographies of 100 Prominent Angels in Legend & Folklore-And Much More!. Murfreesboro, TN: Mamre Press. pp. 70-72, 73. ISBN 9780932945402. LCCN 93020336. OCLC 27726648. Retrieved . Artists like to show Gabriel carrying a lily (Mary's flower), a scroll and a scepter.
  15. ^ OrthodoxWiki. "Archangel Gabriel" (Internet). OrthodoxWiki. Retrieved . Because the Angels are incorporeal beings, though they nevertheless take on human form when appearing to mankind, it can be difficult to differentiate one from another in icons. However, Gabriel is usually portrayed with certain distinguishing characteristics. He typically wears blue or white garments; he holds either a lily (representing the Theotokos), a trumpet, a shining lantern, a branch from Paradise presented to him by the Theotokos, or a spear in his right hand and often a mirror--made of jasper and with a ? (the first letter of Christ (?) in Greek)--in his left hand. He should not be confused with the Archangel Michael, who carries a sword, shield, date-tree branch, and in the other hand a spear, white banner (possibly with scarlet cross) and tends to wear red. Michael's specific mission is to suppress enemies of the true Church (hence the military theme), while Gabriel's is to announce mankind's salvation.
  16. ^ "Saint of the Day, October 16". St. Patrick Catholic Church. Retrieved .
  17. ^ "Godehard (Gotthard) von Hildesheim". Ökumenisches Heiligenlexikon (in German). Retrieved .
  18. ^ d, d. "Isidore and Maria, Patron Saints of Farmers". d. National Catholic Rural Life Conference. Archived from the original on 2013-04-06. Retrieved .
  19. ^ "Saint Kentigern". Archived from the original on 6 March 2012. Retrieved 2012.
  20. ^ Adler, Jerry; Lawler, Andrew. "How the Chicken Conquered the World". Smithsonian. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved .
  21. ^ Rabenstein, Katherine (April 1999). "Opportuna of Montreuil, OSB". Saints O' the Day for April 22. Archived from the original on February 6, 2007. Retrieved .CS1 maint: unfit url (link)
  22. ^ "Lives".
  23. ^ Baring-Gould, Sabine (1898). "The Lives of the Saints". The Lives of the Saints.
  24. ^ Jameson, Anna (1857). Sacred and Legendary Art. Longman, Brown, Green. p. 648.
  25. ^ "Saints Timothy & Titus", Saints, Passionist nun.
  26. ^ Jones, Terry. "Valentine of Terni". Patron Saints Tom. Archived from the original on April 1, 2010. Retrieved 2007.
  27. ^ Numbers 17:1-8
  28. ^ Shorter Oxford English dictionary, 6th ed. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. 2007. p. 3804. ISBN 978-0199206872.
  29. ^ "Signs and Symbols". Retrieved .
  30. ^ Cucciniello, Lisa (2008). Rose to Rosary: The Flower of Venus in Catholicism. Rose Lore: Essays in Semiotics and Cultural History. Lexington Books. pp. 64-65.
  31. ^ "Easter Flowers". Archived from the original on 2018-03-10. Retrieved .

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