Iconographic saint attribute

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Virgo inter virgines , late 15th century. The Virgin Mary surrounded by other holy virgins (including Agatha , Lucia , Agnes , Katharina , Barbara , Apollonia and Cäcilia , recognizable by their attributes)

Iconographic attributes of saints or attributes of saints are characteristic accessories in Christianity with which pictorial representations of saints were provided in order to make them recognizable or to illustrate the nature of their martyrdom . It can be clothing, objects or accompanying living beings. Statements about the attributes of saints are assigned to the field of iconography .

These attributes mostly go back to traditions or writings of Christianity, also to ancient stories that found their way into the Christian canon of images. Besides the Bible, the main sources are the Martyrologium Romanum , the Legenda Aurea of Jakob de Voragine or the Physiologus .

The following lists mainly relate to painting of saints. The icons of the Eastern Churches have their own tradition of attributes of saints, which sometimes differs from that of the Latin Church .

Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck : The holy virgins and martyrs come to worship the Lamb
Holy Clerics (Ghent Altarpiece)

General attributes

  • Abbot's staff : ending in S-shape since 1500, for all holy abbots and abbesses
  • Crosier : ending with a simple curve, and miter for holy bishops
  • Banner : for all princely or knightly saints, including the representation of Ecclesia
  • Book : symbol of the New Testament
  • Scroll : Prophets of the Old Testament
  • Dragon : under the feet it means victory over evil
  • Angel
  • Habit : sign for religious
  • gloriole
  • Chalice : with priests
  • Church model: donors of churches or abbeys
  • Wreath of roses, white roses : attribute of consecrated virgins
  • Cross : with confessors, especially with consecrated people, life-size cross: St. Helena
  • Crown : means princely descent or heavenly reward, especially for virgin martyrs
  • Lance : with holy soldiers
  • Coat : denotes the apostles
  • Martyr's palm : there are three crowns over the palm branch
  • Lily : virgins, generally of virginity, also in male saints
  • Miter : bishops and abbots
  • Shell : The scallop shell of the Compostela pilgrims
  • Palm branch : means the victory over the world and flesh through martyrdom
  • Pilgrim's staff, bag, pilgrim hat : with all pilgrims
  • Imperial orb : with holy kings
  • Rosary : means special devotion to Mary
  • Sword : attribute of martyrdom, especially by beheading
  • Tiara : holy popes
  • Skull : stands for an ascetic, unworldly life
  • Scepter : with holy emperors and kings

Attributes of individual saints

Lucia with eyes in a bowl
Korbinian Bear
St. Andrew's Cross
Boniface with a pierced book
Christophorus with Christ child and walking stick
Nicholas with three gold balls
Vitus (Veit) in the kettle
Leonhard with broken chain
"Seraphic crucifix" in the stigmatization of St. Francis
Dionysius with his head in hand
Florian extinguishing a fire
Mauritius, armed with a shield and a lance
St Mark's lion in the coat of arms of Venice
Barbara with tower and martyr's palm
Sebastian, pierced by arrows
Laurentius with the rust and martyr's palm
Peter with key, gospel book and cock
Anthony with the Cross and Pig
Rochus with bared plague mark and dog bringing him bread

See also


  • Horst Appuhn: Introduction to the Iconography of Medieval Art in Germany. 2nd, improved edition. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1980, pp. 27-40.
  • Joseph Braun : Costume and attributes of the saints in German art. Stuttgart 1943; Reprinted there in 1964, and, declared as the 4th edition, Berlin (Gebr. Mann 1992), ISBN 3-7861-1519-2 .
  • Hiltgart L. Keller: Lexicon of saints and biblical figures. Legend and representation in the fine arts. 10th, bibliographically revised edition. Reclam, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-15-010570-6 (identification book of good quality).
  • Lexicon of Christian Iconography . Founded by Engelbert Kirschbaum. Published by Wolfgang Braunfels . Special edition. 8 volumes. Herder, Freiburg (Breisgau) et al. 1990, ISBN 3-451-22568-9 .
  • Francis de Sales Doyé: Saints and Blessed of the Roman Catholic Church, their identifying marks, patronage and remarks on life history. 2 volumes. Vier-Quellen-Verlag, Leipzig 1929, (identification book of excellent quality).
  • Otto Wimmer: characteristics and attributes of the saints. Tyrolia-Verlag, Innsbruck et al. 1993, ISBN 3-7022-1905-6 .
  • Paul W. Roth: Soldier Saints. Verlag Styria, Graz et al. 1993, ISBN 3-222-12185-0 .

Web links

Commons : Iconographic Sacred Attribute  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files
Commons : Christian Saints in Heraldry  - collection of images, videos, and audio files