Student Reader

Hagiography

Jesus' family

Anne

Lived 1st century BC
Rank and group:
Feast day: 20 July
Patron saint: Brittany, Canada, women in labor, miners
Attributes: Childbirth, touching Virgin Mary
Status:

The Virgin Mary's mother is not really known, but the church decided to call her Anne.

מִרְיָם Miriam (Mary)
יוֹסֵף Yosef (Ἰωσήφ Joseph)
John the Baptist

Lived 0 - c 30
Feast day: June 24
Patron saint: Turin, Genoa, Florence, baptism
Attributes: Lamb, camelskin or sheepskin tunic

He was executed, and is often shown with the princess Salome who requested it dancing.

constantinople istanbul turkey icon st john saint john

Icon of St. John the Baptist. About 1300. Constantinople. Wood, linen, gold-leaf, gesso, paint. British Museum, PE 1986.0708.1. Image by L. M. Clancy, 2009/09/13. Saint John here wears a prophet's robes and holds a scroll. His unkempt hair and the hint of a camel hair skirt under his red tunic are an allusion to his life as a hermit. The intimacy of his intense gaze and the small scale of the icon indicate it was for private devotion.

The Twelve Apostles

  • Saint Luke the Evangelist
  • Saint Matthew the Evanglist
  • Saint Mark the Evangelist
  • Saint John the Evangelist
  • Saint Philip the Apostle
  • Of course Judas Iscariot is not a saint.

The Four Evangelists

The four evangelists each wrote a gospel, and are thus typically shown before a writing table, as it was through the work and research and understanding of the evangelist that divine inspiration became actual and verbal.

Saint John the Evangelist

Lived ? - c 100
Feast day: December 27
Patron saint: Theologians, writers.
Attributes: Eagle, book.

Saint John was an apostle, and is said to be the only one who did not die a martyr. He lived a long time until his death at Ephesus, and is often shown old. He had a vision of four winged creatures, and there were four gospels, so each evangelist was given one of these creatures as his symbol.

Legend goes that the old Saint John was asked every Sunday in Ephesus to give the homily at Mass. All he ever said was, "Little children, love one another." When asked if he would vary his message, he was surprised and explained gently that mutual love was the Lord's command, and that it provided all we needed.

This is a reminder that the very presence of a Saint illuminates God, and that it is thus not necessary for them to speak much. This notion was influential, and Saint John Vianney, while giving his sermons in the 19th century, followed this model of John and gave sermons in an inaudible mumble to the crowds who flocked to him.

Saint Luke the Evangelist

Lived 1st century
Feast day: October 18th
Patron saint: Doctors, surgeons, painters.
Attributes: Winged ox, gospel.

Saint Luke was one of the four evangelists, the writers of the gospel. His symbol was a winged ox, as his gospel alone refers to the ox in the stable at Bethlehem; of note, the ox is also a symbol of inspiration.

Saint Mark the Evangelist

Lived ? - c 74
Feast day: April 25
Patron saint: Venice, glaziers
Attributes: Winged lion, gospel

Saint Mark was one of the Four Evangelists, with as his attribute a winged lion. He is often shown writing, perhaps sharpening his quill or putting pen to paper. Saint Mark's gospel concerns itself with the Passion of Jesus more than the other three. He is credited with a highly energetic career that ended in martyrdom. Saint Mark sailed to Alexandria to become bishop, but the wicked Egyptians captured him while he was saying Mass. He is thus often depicted captured, with the resigned astonishment appropriate to a saint.

The Venetians needed a saint to be their patron, and were particularly keen on the attribute of a winged (representing spirituality) lion (representing power). The Venetians ventured to Alexandria, where they stole his body and hid it in a cask overlayed with the carcasses of swine.

Saint Matthew the Evangelist

Lived 1st Century
Feast day: September 21
Patron saint: Accountants, bookkeepers, tax-collectors, customs officers, security guards.
Attributes: Gospel, money box, glasses.

Saint Matthew was a tax collector who gave up his well-paid career to follow Jesus and become an evangelist. He was often depicted with a winged man, because he starts his gospel with the genealogy of Christ; indeed, of all the evangelists he was most conscious of Jesus' humanity and most details of Christmas come to us from Matthew; thus, when shown writing, there is often an accompanying indication of the Christmas story.

The Fourteen Helpers

Saint Margaret of Antioch

Lived ?
Rank and group: Virgin Martyr
Feast day: 20 July
Patron saint: Childbirth
Attributes: Dragon, crucifix, pearl rosary
Status: Roman Martyrology

Known in the East as Marina, little historical fact is known about Margaret. Some say she lived in the 1st century, others that she died c 304 under Diocletian. What is agreed upon is that she was likely born in Antioch in Psidia. All else about her is hopelessly convoluted with pure legend. Her popularity arises from her patronage of childbirth, a medieval woman's most dangerous experience.

She is said to have been sought in marriage by Olybius, the Roman governor of Antioch. She innocently turned him down as she was a Christian committed to Christ. The governor threw her into prison, a reflection of how little freedom was held by women of her age. While in prison, she was swallowed up by a dragon, a doom symbol of pregnancy -- but she used her small cross to poke a hole in the dragon and claw from the agony of childbirth into the light of day. She was eventually martyred, her final escape from her tragic life.

Other saints

Saint Agatha

Lived ? - c 251
Feast day: February 5
Patron saint: Catania, breast disorders, bell-founders, nurses
Attributes: Breasts in a dish

Born and raised at the foot of Mount Etna, Agatha was a girl of great beauty. Her attractiveness brought the attention of the Roman prefect of Sicily, but when she rejected his advances he sent her to a brothel. Her great serenity and dignity, however, resulted in nobody touching her. Thwarted, the prefect condemned her to death: she was hung upside down on a pillar and her breasts were torn off, and she was then executed.

Saint Apollonia

Lived ? - 249
Feast day: February 9
Patron saint: Dentists, toothaches
Attributes: Teeth, pincers

In the midst of attacks on Christians by Egyptian mobs, Saint Apollonia was an aged deaconess of Alexandria. When attacked by a mob, she refused to compromise her faith and she was beaten; either the blows knocked out all her teeth, or she was tortured by having her teeth removed with pincers.

Old and in pain, she still remained committed to her faith when a fire was lit to burn her alive. All she asked was for a moment's reflection, not so that she could submit herself, but so that she could spare the mob the sin of killing her and also retain her dignity: she jumped into the flames, accepting the inevitable in a way that may help her persecutors think more deeply.

Saint Barbara

Lived ? - c 200
Feast day: December 4
Patron saint: Artillerymen, architects, miners
Attributes: Three-windowed tower, lightning

Saint Barbara is always portrayed with the tower in which she was imprisoned to isolate her from Christianity. While locked away, she still managed to adopt the faith; this symbolizes that no human endeavor or ivory tower can keep somebody from the faith. Saint Barbara's despotic father locked her in a tower to protect her from Christianity.

However, this only made Barbara long all the more to learn of this strange new faith. She of course eventually did, and upon hearing the news her father denounced her to the emperor and offered to behead her himself. She was taken up a mountain and her father decapitated her with an ax. As it came down, he was struck and killed by lightning. Thus, the delicate young aristocrat Barbara became the patron saint of artillerymen.

Saint Catherine of Alexandria

Lived c 290 - c 310
Rank and group: Virgin Martyr
Feast day: November 25
Patron saint: Philosophers, scholars,
millers, spinners, clergy, wheelwrights,
young girls
Attributes: Spiked wheel
Status: Roman Martyrology

Though likely legendary, Catherine was a very popular saint. According to tradition, she was a queen who converted to Christianity in the early 4th century. Catherine was martyred at Alexandria under Maximinus Daza after challenging the emperor himself. After confronting him about his idol worship, the emperor sent fifty philosophers to argue with her; however, she talked them all down and converted them. The legend grows more fantastic yet: the emperor then begs her to marry him, but she rejects him since she is already married to Christ.

Upon hearing this, he has her put to death by being tied to a spiked wheel. However, the wheel bursts apart and she is then beheaded. Her corpse is carried by angels to Mount Sinai. Her alleged relics have been enshrined for a millennium at the Orthodox monastery of Mount Sinai. Saint Catherine has come to symbolize the triumph of faith over intellectualism, seduction and fear. In art her attribute is the spiked while and oftentimes a book in hand, and she is often engaged with a philosopher, either arguing with him or vanquishing him underfoot.

Saint Dorothy

Lived ? - c 300-310
Feast day: February 6
Patron saint: Florists
Attributes: Laden basket, cornucopia

Concrete historicity is scarce regarding the life of Dorothy, whose name means gift of God. What is chiefly known about her is her martyrdom. Persecuted for being a Christian, she was being lead to her death when she passed Theophilus, a young lawyer who, despite his name, was a cynic. He jeered at her, exasperated to see her so calm and serene as she was led to what he believed was a pointless and avoidable death. She responded by saying that she would send him flowers. It was a bitter winter, but as she died a child gave Theophilus a basket of apples and roses. He then followed her into martyrdom.

Saint Giles

Lived? - c 710
Rank and group: Benedictine, Abbot
Feast day: 1 September
Patron saint: Cripples, beggars, blacksmiths
Attributes: Wounded stag or doe
Status: Roman Martyrology

Discarding the legends which have been strung to the memory of Saint Giles, all that remains is a small bead of historical residue. Giles was likely born in Provence and became an abbot of a monastery on the Rhone (present-day Saint-Gilles). He is said to have begun as a hermit, and while living as a hermit in a cave, Giles was kept alive by a doe's milk and was kept from loneliness by a stag's companionship. Giles eventually wound up a Benedictine in the end. He became one of the most popular medieval saints and his shrine became a hotspot for pilgrimage. Over 160 churches were dedicated to his name in England alone. Like Saint Francis, he is known for his deep connection to animals.

Saint Gregory the Great

Lived c 540 - 604
Rank & Group: Pope, Doctor, Benedictine
Feast Day: 12 March and 3 Sept
Patron Saint: Masons, singers, musicians, teachers
Attributes: Masons, papal crozier, singers, papal tiera, dove
Status: Roman Martyrology

Saint Lucy of Syracuse

Lived ? - 304
Rank and group: Virgin Martyr
Feast day: December 13
Patron saint: Eye afflictions
Attributes: Eyes, torch, lamp or candles
Status: Roman Martyrology

Saint Lucy was a Sicilian maiden living in Syracuse who was persecuted under Diocletian. She is among the most famous of the Western virgin martyrs and is commemorated daily in the canon of the Mass. She endured many tortures for her beliefs, dying only when a dagger was plunged into her throat. Her cult is bound up with vision: upon being martyred, her eyes were gouged out, but she continued to see since her spiritual sight remained undimmed; thus, she represents a sort of double entendre on vision, both its physical and religious facets. She is oftentimes shown holding or presenting her eyes, and also with a torch, lamp or candle.

Saint Martin of Tours

Lived c 316 - c 400
Rank and group: Bishop, Apostle of Gauls
Feast day: 11 November, 4 July
Patron saint: France, soliders, drapers,
furriers, tailors.
Attributes: Cloak, Roman soldier's uniform
Status: Roman Martyrology

Martin in Upper Pannonia (now Hungary) to a Roman officer. He was educated at Pavia and at age fifteen enrolled in the imperial cavalry where he served as a border patrolman. Following an incident with a beggar, detailed below, Martin converted from paganism to Christianity. He was to become the first pacifist saint. When war broke out, Martin saw that it was a war of aggression, an unjust war, and volunteered to walk in the vanguard carrying a cross, even risking his life to do so, but he himself would not kill. He eventually resigned his commission and followed Saint Hilary, bishop of Poitiers, and lived for ten years as a recluse.

During this time, Martin founded a community of monk-hermits at Ligugé. In 371 he was promoted to the see of Tours, a post he accepted reluctantly. He established another great monastic center at Marmoutier, where he lived privately as a monk, while he zealously relieved himself of episcopal duties. He opposed Arianism and Priscillianism, but he condemned civil punishment of heretics and thus lent them support when they were persecuted. He was the greatest pioneer of Western monasticism before Saint Benedict, who venerated Saint Martin. He shrine at Tours has become a site of pilgrimage.

While in the military, Martin met a naked beggar. Martin gave him all he could, which was half his uniform cloak. That night, he had a dream where Christ was wearing the piece of cloak and said, "My friend Martin gave this to me." Martin converted to Christianity and dramatically rejected material values.

Saint Paula

Lived ? - 404
Rank and group: Widow
Feast day: 26 January
Patron saint: Widows
Attributes: Usually with Saint Jerome
Status: Roman Martyrology

Neither a virgin nor a martyr, Paula was an aristocratic widow who was so wowed by Jerome that when he left for the Holy Land, she, her adult daughter and some friends all followed him to establish a convent. She was ferocious in her learning, learning both Hebrew and Greek. Gossip swarmed about her closeness to Jerome.

A Roman lady of noble birth, she married a patrician, to whom she bore five children, among them St Eustochium and St Blaesilla. Left a widow when she was thirty-four Paul embraced the religious life, and for twenty years presided over the sisterhood founded by her near St Jerome's monastery at Bethlehem, where she also established a hospital. St Jerome became her spiritual director, and after her death her biographer. Book of Saints, p 464
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