October 24, 2011

Bible Saints and Symbols

I love Sacred Art ... I often find my eyes and mind drifting over to murals, statues, or colorful windows during mass, contemplating the lives of some wonderful people who have gone before us.  I am also intrigued by some objects that often accompany these portrayals.  Discerning the meaning behind these objects helps me to deepen my understanding of the saint being displayed ...


St. Melchizedek is usually portrayed as presenting wine and bread to St. Abraham.


St. Moses can be portrayed in a wide variety of ways; a more popular depiction is of this Old Testament leader holding the two tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments.


Sometimes St. King David is portrayed with a harp, illustrating how he played the harp for King Saul, and likely used the harp while singing/composing many of the Psalms.


Sts. Elijah and Elisha are frequently depicted together; Elisha watching as Elijah goes to heaven in a chariot (2 Kings 2:11).


There are lots of representations of Mary.  This one shows her during the Annunciation, when the archangel St. Gabriel told her of the upcoming birth of Jesus.  A lily (sign of purity) and the Holy Spirit symbolized by a dove are often found in Annunciation portrayals.


If you ever see an illustration of a man with an X-shaped cross, it is probably St. Andrew who is traditionally believed to have  been crucified on an X-shaped crucifix in Patras, Greece.


St. Bartholomew is often depicted with a knife, symbolizing his martyrdom of being skinned alive.  The book represents some writings that he may have done.


St. John the Evangelist (left) is pictured holding a book, representing his writings in the Bible.  Another common depiction of John is at the foot of the cross with Mary.  His brother, James the Greater (right) is holding a walking staff with a scallop shell, both objects symbolizing the great pilgrimage to his place of burial - the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.



In this wall painting, St. Peter is shown with a fishnet to remind us that he was a fisherman, a key to symbolize Jesus giving him the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and the cock at his feet remind of the occasion when he denied Jesus three times.  Peter is also holding a scroll perhaps to represent some Epistles possibly written by this saint (1 and 2 Peter).


This double-paned window illustrates the double martyrdom of St. Jude (left) and St. Simon (right) in Persia.  You can probably guess that Jude was speared to death and Simon sawed into pieces.  The scroll that Jude is holding symbolizes the possibility that he wrote the Biblical book of Jude.


St. Stephen in this window is holding a palm leaf - a symbol of martyrdom - and some stones, reminding church-goers that he was stoned to death.


St. Michael the Archangel is often shown with wings and armor, about to defeat a dragon with a sword (Revelation 12:7).


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