+++Representing God and the Saints+++


BLOOD: Life, aacrifice, Martyrdom. By its very nature, blood is the symbol of life and of the human soul. Christ, the Son of God, shed His Blood upon the Cross to redeem mankind from its sins. Red, the color of blood, has become the common attribute of all those Martyrs who died rather than deny Christ.

BREASTS: The female breasts are the symbol of motherhood, and its attributes of love, nourishment, and protection. Christian modesty does not permit a woman's naked breast to be shown even in noble art. The Virgin as mother takes the Christ Child to her breast. Two breasts on a platter are used as an attribute of St. Agatha, who, as part of her Martyrdom, had her breasts torn by pincers or shears.

EAR: The conception of Our Lord: the Word of God made flesh literally and words are made flesh by hearing symbolically. The human ear has also come to be one of the symbols of the betrayal of Christ and thus of the Passion. In John 18:10, at Christ's arrest by the servants of Caiaphas, it is related how Simon Peter having a sword, drew it, and smote the high priest's servant and cut off his right ear.

EYE: The omnipresence of God.  "The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers" [1 Peter 3:12]. In Proverbs 22:12, it is written: "The eyes of the Lord preserve knowledge, and He overthroweth the words of the transgressor." In the later period of Renaissance painting, the Eye of God surrounded by a triangle is used to symbolize the Holy Trinity. radiating light. Later the Freemasons adopted this symbol so it is seldom used by Catholic artists with a triangle so as to avoid the reference to the enemy of Christ and His Church. A pair of eyes, often on a platter, are the attribute of St. Lucy.

[BARE] FEET: Poverty, Humility.

FOOT: The human foot, because it touches the dust of the earth, is used to symbolize humility and willing servitude. St. Mary Magdalen in the house of the Pharisee who washed Christ's feet with her tears did so as a token of her humility and penitence, and her sins were forgiven [Luke 7:38]. Christ Himself washed the feet of His disciples at the Last Supper [John 13:5]. It is on the basis of this act that it has become the tradition for bishops to perform the ceremony of washing feet of his priests on Maundy Thursday.

HAIR: Loose, flowing hair is a symbol of penitence. Its origin is closely allied to the episode related in Luke 7:37-38 referrred to above. This portio of the Gospel led to the custom of the hermits, and all those doing penance, of letting their hair grow long.

In ancient times, unmarried women wore their hair loose and long. This is the reason that the virgin Saints are frequently portrayed with long, flowing hair. St. Paul calls the hair of the wife the glory of the man who is the glory of God. See 1 Cor. 11:1-15.

HAND COMING FROM CLOUD: First Person of the Trinity. God the Father. In the early days of Christian art, Christians hesitated to depict the countenance of their God, but the presence of the Almighty was frequently indicated by a hand issuing from a cloud that hid the awe-inspiring and glorious majesty of God, which "no man could behold and live" [Exodus 33:20]. The origin of this symbol rests in the frequent scriptural references to the hand and the arm of the Lord, symbols of His almighty power and will. The hand is sometimes shown closed or grasping:

Hand giving money: Judas; Washing hands: Innocence;
Hand holding figures: Souls in the hands of God;
Open hand: Beneficence; Extended hand: Protection.
Hwith upward palm: Invitation; Fold hands: Prayer;
Clasped hands: Holy Matrimony;

The hand also plays an important role in the Passion of Christ. The open hand recalls the mocking of Christ in the Common Hall, for He was slapped in the face there. The hand closed over straws recalls the tradition that lots were drawn to see whether Christ or Barabbas should be released.

HEAD: The head, as the uppermost and chief part of the body, is sometimes used to represent the whole man. It also represents the seat of life and, being the chief member of the body, has rule and control over all of the other members. Thus Christ is the spiritual head of His Church not only in eminence and influence but in that He communicates life and strength to every believer.

The head is used as a symbol in relation to a number of Biblical persons. A severed head in the hands or at the feet of a male figure is an attribute of David, who, after striking down Goliath the Philistine with a stone from his sling, struck off the Philistine's head with a sword. Judith is portrayed with a severed head in her hands, in allusion to her killing of Holofernes. Salome is frequently depicted carrying the head, often haloed, of John the Baptist on a platter, thus head on a platter is an attribute of St. John the Baptist.
HEART: The heart was considered to be the source of understanding, love, courage, devotion, sorrow, and joy. Its deep religious meaning is expressed in 1 Samuel 16:7, 'But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature . . .f or the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.' The human heart, when carried by a Saint, is symbolic of love and piety. The flaming heart suggests the utmost religious fervor.

The heart pierced by an arrow symbolizes contrition, deep repentance, and devotion under conditions of extreme trial. The flaming heart and, occasionally, the pierced heart are used as attributes of St. Augustine, symbolizing God's guidance of his zeal. The heart with a cross is an attribute of St. Catherine of Siena, with reference to the legend that, in response to her prayers, the Saviour one day appeared to her and replaced her heart with His Own. The heart is also used as an attribute of St. Bernardino of Siena.

HEART IN FLAMES: Extreme ardor.

HEART PIERCED BY THREE NAILS AND ENCIRCLED BY A CROWN OF THORNS: The 'Sacred Heart.' Shows Christ's extreme love for Mankind by His willingness to suffer.


SKELETON: The human skeleton is, for obvious reasons, used as a symbol of death. Frequently, the skeleton is shown bearing in one hand a scythe, a symbol of the cutting short of life, and in the other hand an hourglass, a symbol of the swift passage of time.

SKULL: The transience of life, contemplation of death. It is the symbol of Hermits and Penitents, such as St. Mary Magdalene, St. Paul, St. Jerome, and St. Francis of Assisi. Hermits are usually shown with a skull to suggest their contemplation of death. When a cross is represented with the skull, it suggests their meditation upon eternal life after death.

In some Renaissance pictures, the Cross is shown with a skull and crossbones at its foot, referring to the Cross on Golgotha, 'the place of a skull.' There is a pious tradition that the Cross rested upon the skull and bones of Adam, suggesting that through the Cross all men may rise to eternal life. see 1 Corinthians 15:45.

STIGMATA: The word 'stigmata' is the plural of the word 'stigma,' which means a mark, usually of disgrace or infamy. Stigmata are marks said to have been supernaturally impressed upon certain persons of high religious character in the semblance of the five wounds suffered by Christ upon the Cross. In Catholic art, the stigmata are used particularly as the attribute of St. Catherine of Siena and of St. Francis of Assisi, because marks of Christ's Passion appeared on both of them.