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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



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St. Agatha

Saint Symbol
Acathius of Melitene Crown of Thorns
Agatha of Sicily tongs or shears, veil, bells, two breasts on a plate
Agnes lamb
Ambrose bees, beehive, dove, ox, pen
Andrew transverse cross
Anne, grandmother of Jesus door, book, red robe and green mantle
Anthony the Great monk's habit, bell, pig
Anthony of Padua Child Jesus, bread, book, lily
Augustine of Hippo dove, child, shell, pen, book


tablet or sun inscribed with IHS

Saint Symbol
Barbara tower, ciborium, cannon
Bartholomew the Apostle knife
Benedict broken cup, raven, bell, crosier, bush
Bernard of Clairvaux pen, bees, instruments of the Passion
Bernardino of Siena tablet or sun inscribed with IHS, three mitres
Blaise wax, taper (candle), iron comb
Bonaventure communion, ciborium, cardinal's hat
Boniface oak, axe, book, fox, scourge,fountain, raven, sword
Bridget of Sweden book, pilgrim's staff
Brigid of Kildare cow, crosier, Brigid's cross


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

Saint Symbol
Catherine of Alexandria wheel, a crown
Catherine of Ricci ring, crown, crucifix
Catherine of Siena stigmata, cross, ring, lily
Cecilia organ
Cerbonius geese
Charles Borromeo cardinal's robes, communion
Christopher giant crudely dressed, torrent, tree, branch or large staff, Carrying the Child Jesus on shoulder
Clare of Assisi monstrance
Clement anchor, fish, Mariner's Cross
Corbinian saddled bear
Saints Cosmas and Damian a phial, box of ointment
Cyriacus deacon's vestments


Mariner's Cross

Saint Symbol
Daniel lion
Denis head in hands
David of Wales harp
Dorothy of Caesarea flowers
Saint Dominic rosary, star
Dunstan hammer, tongs




Saint Symbol
Edmund the Martyr quiver 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
Elijah cave
Elisabeth of Hungary alms, flowers, bread, the poor, pitcher
Emilianus monk on horseback
Elizabeth of Portugal crown
Erasmus of Formiae windlass
Eustace hunting clothes, stag, bull, crucifix, horn, oven


Symbol of the martyrdom of Judas Thaddeus

Saint Symbol
Francis of Assisi wolf, birds, fish, skull, stigmata
Francis Xavier crucifix, bell, vessel, crab with a cross


Saint Symbol
Gabriel is archangel, trumpet, armour, wings, scroll stating “Ave Maria Gratia Plena”
Genesius drama masks
Genevieve lit candle, bread, keys, herd, cattle
George dragon,soldier or knight in armour, often on white horse, especially in the East
Gertrude of Nivelles crown, tapir, lily,mouse
Giles Benedictine habit, hind
Gregory the Great Papal Tiara, crosier, dove (often portrayed at his ear)


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

Saint Symbol
Helena cross
Hippolytus of Rome Papal Tiara
Hippolytus the soldier military garb, horse's harness
Honoratus of Amiens baker's peel or shovel; bishop with a large Host; bishop with three Hosts on a baker's shovel; loaves


Saint Symbol
Ignatius of Antioch a bishop surrounded by lions or in chains
Ignatius of Loyola Eucharist, chasuble, book, cross.
Imerius of Immertal hermit's garb and bird of prey
Irene of Tomar palm of martyrdom
Isidore of Seville bees, pen, book
Ivo of Kermartin depicted as a lawyer, holding a document, in legal dress.


IHS monogram of the name of Jesus


Saint Symbol
James, son of Zebedee pilgrim's staff, scallop shell, key, sword
James, son of Alphaeus / James the Just square rule, halberd, club, saw
Jerome lion, cardinal clothing, cross, skull, books and writing material
Joan of Arc shield, Cross of Lorraine
Saint Joanna lamb
John Berchmans Rule of Saint Ignatius, cross, rosary
John Chrysostom bees, dove, pen
John of God alms, heart, Crown of Thorns
John the Baptist lamb, 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 Evangelist eagle, chalice sometimes with a snake in it, kettle, book
Joseph, spouse of Mary Child Jesus, lily, rod, plane, carpentry square, purple robe and brown mantle
Juan Diego tilma
Jude the Apostle sword, square rule, club, ship
Justin Martyr axe, sword
Juthwara round soft cheese


Saint Symbol
Kateri Tekakwitha turtle, lily
Kevin of Glendalough blackbird
Knut of Denmark Nordic king with royal insignia, dagger, lance or arrow.



Saint Symbol
Lawrence of Rome cross, Gospel Book, gridiron, palm frond, purse of money
Leander of Seville pen
Leonard of Noblac lock, chain, manacles or fetters
Liborius of Le Mans pebbles, peacock
Louis IX of France Crown of Thorns, nails
Lucy cord, [:File:Saint Lucy by Domenico di Pace Beccafumi.jpg|eyes on a dish], lamp
Luke the Evangelist ox, book, brush, palette



Saint Symbol
Margaret the Virgin dragon in chains
Mark the Evangelist winged lion, book
Martha holy water sprinkler, dragon
Martin of Tours goose
Mary Magdalene jar of ointment
Matilda of Ringelheim purse, alms
Matthew the Evangelist winged man, purse, lance
Maurus scales, spade, crutch
Michael scales, banner, sword, dragon
Monica girdle, tears


three purses or balls

Saint Symbol
Nicholas three purses or balls, anchor, boat, child


Saint Symbol
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


Baptismal font in Magdeburg Cathedral, Germany.

Saint Symbol
Pantaleon nailed hands
Paraskevi eyeballs on a plate
Patrick cross, harp, serpent, baptismal font, demons, shamrock
Paul the Apostle sword, book or scroll, horse Long, pointed beard; balding backwards from forehad. Green robe, red mantle.
Peter keys, boat, rooster, square white beard and short, curling white hair, bald on top. Blue robe and yellow mantle.
Saint Peter of Verona bloodied head (either left bleeding, or partially penetrated)
Petronilla set of keys, dolphin
Philip the Apostle column
Philip Neri lily
Philomena anchor


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


Angel holding the sun at the Bordeaux cathedral

Saint Symbol
Raphael fish
Rita of Cascia roses, roses and figs,crucifix, thorn, sometimes with a wound in her forehead
Roch angel, dog, bread
Rose of Lima Crown of Thorns, anchor, city, roses


Saint Symbol
Sebastian arrows, crown
Stephen Stone(s)
Simon crossed oars, saw


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

Saint Symbol
Teresa of Ávila heart, arrow, book
Teresa of the Andes small cross, flowers
Theodore crocodile
Thérèse de Lisieux roses entwining a crucifix
Thomas Aquinas monstrance, dove, ox
Thomas the Apostle lance, axe, square rule
Thomas More axe
Tudwal dragon


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


A traditional biretta

Saint Symbol
Vedast wolf carrying a goose in its mouth; child; bear
Verdiana snakes
Victor of Marseilles windmill
Vigilius of Trent shoes or clogs
Vincent de Paul children
Vincent Ferrer pulpit, cardinal's hat, trumpet, captives
Vitus cross, rooster, lion


Crosier of arcbishop Heinrich of Finstingen, 1260-1286

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


Saint Symbol
Xystus martyr's palm


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

Saint Symbol
Yrieix Bishop's Mitre


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

Further reading

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

See also

Gloriole.svg Saints portal

Cross of Lorraine

External links


  1. Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), article Symbolism

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