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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.[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 EvangelistsEdit

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.
Saint Symbol[5]
Matthew the Evangelist man
Mark the Evangelist lion
Luke the Evangelist calf
John the Evangelist eagle

The ApostlesEdit

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]

Saints listed by nameEdit


Saint Symbol
Acathius of Melitene crown of thorns[a]
Agatha of Sicily tongs or shears, veil, bells, two breasts on a plate[a]
Agnes lamb[a]
Alfege of Canterbury axe[a]
Alfred the Great codex, crown, orb/scepter[a]
Ambrose bees, beehive, dove, ox, pen[a]
Anne, grandmother of Jesus door, book with the Virgin Mary reading, red robe and green mantle[a]
Anthony the Great monk's habit, bell, pig, T-shaped cross[a]
Anthony of Padua Child Jesus, bread, book, lily[a]
Athanasius of Alexandria bishop arguing with a pagan, bishop holding an open book, bishop standing over a defeated heretic[a]
Augustine of Hippo dove, child, shell, pen, book[a]


Saint Barbara with chalice and cannon
Saint Symbol
Barbara tower, chalice, ciborium, cannon[a]
Barnabas pilgrim's staff, olive branch[a]
Benedict broken cup, raven, bell, crosier, bush[a]
Benno of Meissen fish with keys in its mouth, book[a]
Bernard of Clairvaux pen, bees, instruments of the Passion[a]
Bernardino of Siena tablet or sun inscribed with IHS, three mitres[a]
Blaise wax, taper (candle), iron comb[a]
Bonaventure communion, ciborium, cardinal's hat[a]
Boniface oak, axe, book, fox, scourge, fountain, raven, sword[a]
Bridget of Sweden book, pilgrim's staff[a]
Brigid of Kildare cow, crosier, Brigid's cross[a]


The college shield of St Catharine's College, Cambridge, prominently depicting a Catherine wheel.
Saint Symbol
Casimir of Poland and Lithuania royal attire of crown and red robe lined with ermine, lily, cross, rosary; sometimes two right hands[a]
Catherine of Alexandria wheel, crown, sword, book[a]
Catherine of Ricci ring, crown, crucifix[a]
Catherine of Siena stigmata, cross, ring, lily[a]
Cecilia organ[a]
Cerbonius geese[a]
Charles Borromeo cardinal's robes, communion[a]
Christopher giant crudely dressed, torrent, tree, branch or large staff, carrying the Child Jesus on shoulder[a]
Clare of Assisi monstrance[a]
Clare of Montefalco cross[a]
Clement anchor, fish, Mariner's Cross[a]
Corbinian saddled bear[a]
Saints Cosmas and Damian a phial, box of ointment[a]
Saints Crispin and Crispinian shoes, millstones[a]
Cyriacus deacon's vestments[a]


Saint Symbol
Daniel lion[a]
David of Scotland king with sword or sceptre[a]
David of Wales dove[a]
Denis head in hands[a]
Dorothea of Caesarea flowers, fruits[a]
Dominic rosary, star, dog with a torch[a]
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]
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]


An axe, the symbol of the martyrdom of Judas Thaddeus and other saints
Saint Symbol
Faith Shield of the Trinity[a]
Felix of Burgundy anchor[a]
Florinus of Remüs bottle, glass of wine[a]
Francis of Assisi wolf, birds, fish, skull, stigmata[a]
Francis Xavier crucifix, bell, vessel, crab with a cross[a]


Saint Symbol
Gabriel is archangel, trumpet, armour, wings, scroll stating "Ave Maria Gratia Plena"[a]
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]
Gertrude of Nivelles crown, tapir, lily, mouse[a]
Giles Benedictine habit, hind[a]
Gregory the Great papal tiara, crosier, dove (often portrayed at his ear)[a]


A "fiddleback" chasuble from the church of Saint Gertrude in Maarheeze in the Netherlands
Saint Symbol
Helena wearing a royal crown while supporting a cross[a]
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]


Symbol for Isidore of Seville: beehive, crozier and quill
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]
Isidore of Seville bees, pen, book[a]
Ivo of Kermartin depicted as a lawyer, holding a document, in legal dress.[a]


IHS monogram of the name of Jesus
Saint Symbol
Jerome lion, cardinal clothing, cross, skull, books and writing material, stone in hand[a]
Joan of Arc shield, Cross of Lorraine[a]
Saint Joanna lamb[a]
John Berchmans Rule of Saint Ignatius, cross, rosary[a]
John Chrysostom bees, dove, pen[a]
John of God alms, heart, crown of thorns[a]
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 carrying a long crudely made cross[a]
Joseph of Anchieta Gospel book, crucifix and Walking stick[a]
Joseph, spouse of Mary Child Jesus, lily, rod, plane, carpentry square, purple robe and brown mantle[a]
Juan Diego tilmàtli[a]
Justin Martyr axe, sword[a]
Justina of Padua palm frond, knife, unicorn[a]
Juthwara round soft cheese[a]


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


Saint Symbol
Lambert of Maastricht palm of martyrdom[a]
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.[a]
Leander of Seville pen[a]
Leonard of Noblac lock, chain, manacles or fetters[a]
Liborius of Le Mans pebbles, peacock[a]
Louis IX of France royal attire of crown and blue robe decorated with golden fleur-de-lis, crown of thorns, nails[a]
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[a]
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]
Mungo fish with ring in its mouth, bell, tree, bird[a]


Saint Symbol
Neot fish[a]
Nicholas three purses or balls, anchor, boat, child[a]
Pope Nicholas I rooster[a]
Norbert of Xanten monstrance, cross with two beams[a]


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[a]
Olaf of Norway axe in Norway's coat of arms[a]


Baptismal font in Magdeburg Cathedral, Germany.
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]


Young man with two spits
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]
Quiteria depicted with a dog on a lead; depicted with her head in her hands, emerging from the sea.[a]


Angel holding the sun at the Bordeaux Cathedral
Saint Symbol
Raphael fish[a]
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]
Rose of Lima crown of thorns, anchor, city, roses, crown of roses[a]


St. Stephen the Martyr depicted with three stones and the martyr's palm
Saint Symbol
Sativola scythe, well[a]
Sava of Serbia book[a]
Sebastian arrows, crown[a]
Spyridon of Corfu bishop with Gospel; long, pointed beard, and wearing a shepherd's hat[a]
Stanislaus of Szczepanów sword[a]
Stephen the Martyr stone(s)[a]
Stephen of Hungary royal attire of crown and robes, and holding orb or sceptre with double cross[a]
Swithun bishop with bridge, broken eggs[a]


Neo-Gothic "solar" monstrance at the hermitage church of Warfhuizen.
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 club[6]
Trudpert axe[a]
Tudwal dragon[a]


Bishop with grapes
Saint Symbol
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]


A traditional biretta
The Veil of Veronica
Saint Symbol
Vedast wolf carrying a goose in its mouth; child; bear[a]
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]


Crosier of archbishop Heinrich of Finstingen, 1260–1286
Saint Symbol
Wenceslaus of Bohemia crown, dagger[a]
William of Montevergine wolf and pastoral crook[a]
William of York bishop crossing the River Tweed[a]
Winnoc hand-mill, bridge, grinding corn[a]
Wolfgang of Regensburg a church building with an adze lodged in the roof, a wolf[a]


Saint Symbol
Xenia of Saint Petersburg walking stick[a]
Xystus book, papal tiara, martyr's palm[a]


Mitre of Bishop Sztojkovics, Hungary, c. 1860, stolen in 1989
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]

Further readingEdit

  • Walsh, Michael (2007). A New Dictionary of Saints: East and West. Liturgical Press. ISBN 978-0-8146-3186-7.
  • Delaney, John P. (1980). Dictionary of Saints (Second ed.). Garden City, NY: Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-13594-7.
  • Whittemore, Carroll E. (1980). Symbols of the Church. Abingdon Press. ISBN 0687183014.

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit


  1. "List of saints". Catholic Online.
  1. ^   This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Symbolism". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton.
  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. ^ "Sts. Timothy and Titus, Bishops". Retrieved 15 March 2018.