Amazing articles on just about every subject...

The Saints In Art - M

( Originally Published 1908 )

MAGI (the Wise Men or the Three Kings). (Biblical.) (6th January)

The mediaeval legend names the three wise men Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar—the first being about sixty years of age, the second about forty, and the third, sometimes a Moor or negro, about twenty. They were of kingly, or at least of princely, rank, and, starting from various points, they met on the way, and travelled together to Bethlehem. Tradition also says that, many years after, they were baptised by St. Thomas, during his missionary travels in the East, and that their bodies, after long wanderings, rested at length in Cologne Cathedral.

Picture by Gentile da Fabriano, in Accademia, and by Dürer, in Uffizi, Florence.


The handmaiden of SS. Martha and Mary, who accompanied them on their voyage to Marseilles (see ST. MARY MAGDALENE). She is said to have written the Life of St. Martha, and preached the Gospel in Sclavonia. She is often represented in pictures of the house at Bethany, sometimes cooking in the background. Not to be con-fused with St. Marcella, the Roman widow, friend of St. Jerome, of whom there is a picture by Borgognone, in the Certosa of Pavia.

MARGARET, ST. 20th July)

A legend, which is of Eastern origin, says that she was the daughter of a priest of Antioch. She was sent out into the country to be nursed, and the woman who took charge of her was a Christian. Margaret was brought up in the true Faith, and determined to consecrate her life to CHRIST. One day the Governor of Antioch, passing by, saw her as she was minding sheep, and, attracted by her beauty, commanded her to be brought to his palace. Margaret then declared herself a Christian, and, forsaken in consequence by her parents, she was left in the power of the Governor. He endeavoured by the most cruel tortures to subdue her, and make her his wife ; but, even when in agony so terrible that the tyrant himself hid his face, she remained firm. She was then thrown into a dungeon, where Satan, in the form of a dragon, came upon her. She held up the cross, and he fled ; or, a more popular version of the story, he swallowed her, but at once burst, and she came forth alive. Further tortures only caused many, at the sight of her youth and beauty, to accept the Faith, so the Governor ordered her to be beheaded. As she died, she prayed that all women who, in remembrance of her sufferings, invoked her in childbirth, should find help.

She is represented as young and fair, treading on a dragon, She has the cross, palm, or crown of martyrdom ; sometimes (in allusion to her name) she has pearls round her hair.

Picture by Giulio Romano (from Raphael's design), in the Louvre.

MARK, ST. (Biblical). (Ital. SAN MARCO.) (See EVANGELISTS.) (25th April)

Tradition says that St. Mark became the companion and amanuensis of St. Peter, by whose direction he went to preach the Gospel in Egypt, where he founded the Church of Alexandria. Here he performed many miracles, and on one occasion healed Anianus, a cobbler, who had wounded his hand with an awl. This man afterwards became a zealous Christian, and succeeded St. Mark as Bishop of Alexandria. St. Mark was finally seized and dragged through the streets till he died, a tempest of rain and hail meanwhile overwhelming his murderers. His remains were brought to Venice about 815, and the Cathedral of St. Mark was built over them. There are various legends of St. Mark appearing at later times in Venice ; in a famous one, he, with St. George and St. Nicholas, drives off a galley full of demons from the city in a fisherman's boat, with the sign of the cross. St. Mark sent the fisherman to the Doge to be paid for his labour, and gave him his ring as a token that it was St. Mark who sent him, and as the ring could not be found in its usual place among the relics, the Doge was constrained to believe the story. He is also said to have appeared at the torture and execution of a Christian slave, and to have broken the instruments in pieces.

He is represented as an evangelist,with a lion, often winged ; as Bishop of Alexandria; or with his pen and book ; and often with St. Peter.

A notable picture of him by Fra Bartolomeo is in the Pitti, Florence ; illustrations of the legends by Tintoretto and Paris Bordone are in the Accademia, Venice.

MARTHA, ST. (Biblical). (Patroness of Cooks and Housewives.) (29th July)

According to tradition, she was the means of converting her sister (see ST. MARY MAGDALEN) from her evil life, and is sometimes represented as leading her to CHRIST. She and Mary are symbolical respectively of active and contemplative life, or of female discretion and housewifery, as contrasted with frailty. A Provençal legend tells that while Martha was preaching near Aix, a dragon, who lived in the Rhone, devastated the country, but was overcome by her sprinkling holy water on him, bound with her girdle, and killed.

She is represented, often in homely dress, with some household or cooking utensil, or bunch of keys ; sometimes with a pot of holy water in her hand, and a dragon, bound, at her feet.

MARTIN, ST. (of Tours). (11th November)

Was born in the Roman province of Pannonia, in the reign of Constantine. His parents were pagans, but at an early age he wished to become a Christian. He was a tribune in the army, and was sent into Gaul on a campaign. He was distinguished throughout his career for his gentleness, humility, and charity, as well as for his valour. His legion was quartered at Amiens during the very cold winter of 332, and here one day he met a poor shivering beggar, at the gate of the city, and cutting his cloak in two with his sword, gave the beggar half. That night he had a vision of CHRIST clad with the half of his cloak, and he was soon after baptised. When he reached the age of forty, he wished to leave the army and devote himself to religion, but the Emperor taunted him with fear, and St. Martin, to refute him, offered to be placed in front of the army, naked, with nothing but a cross in his hand. This was to have been done, but the enemy capitulated that very day. After leaving the army he led a retired religious life, and was made Bishop of Tours in 371. Many miracles are recorded of him : he raised a widow's son to life, and restored a slave of the Pro-consul from possession by a devil. He waged war against the idolaters of his time, and converted a large part of Gaul to Christianity.

He is represented as a soldier, often on horseback, generally dividing his cloak with the beggar. Sometimes he is in episcopal robes, and a beggar is his attribute.

Frescoes of his life by Simone Martini are in the lower church of San Francesco, Assisi.

MARTINIAN,ST. (Centurion at the Mamertine Prison). (See ST. PETER.) (2nd July)


A penitent woman of Alexandria, who was turned from her evil life by supernatural power preventing her crossing the threshold of a church in Jerusalem. She retired to the desert, taking with her only three small loaves, and lived there for nearly fifty years, in the direst poverty and rags. She was discovered at length by Zosimus, a priest, who gave her the Sacrament. When he came again she was dead, and he, old and infirm, was trying to bury her body when a lion came out of a wood, and dug her grave with his paws.

She is represented as old and wasted, with grey or black hair (thus distinguished from St. Mary Magdalen), sometimes holding three small loaves.

Picture by Filippino Lippi, in the Accademia, Florence.

MARY MAGDALENE, ST. (Biblical). (Patroness of Marseilles, and of Penitent Women.) (22nd July)

Western art, following tradition, makes no distinction between Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, Mary Magdalene, and " the woman which was a sinner," though they appear to have been historically three distinct persons. According to the legend, St. Mary and her brother and sister, accompanied by SS. Maximin and Marcella (q.v.), after the Ascension, set out in a boat, without sails, oars, or rudder, and came to Marseilles. Here they converted the heathen and taught, St. Lazarus becoming the first Bishop of Marseilles. Many miracles are related of St. Mary. A certain prince of Provence and his wife promised to believe the Gospel if they were granted a son. They set out to Jerusalem to prove the truth of what they were told, and on the way a son was born, but the mother died. The sailors insisted on putting the baby, and the body of its mother, ashore on a rocky, uninhabited island. The prince prayed to St. Mary for the safety of his child, and when he returned, two years later, he found it alive and well, and the woman came to life again at the approach of her husband. Tradition says that St. Mary went into solitude in the wilderness, and remained there thirty years, fasting, reading, and often visited by angels, who bore her at last to heaven.

She is represented as very beautiful, usually with long fair hair. Her indispensable attribute is a box of ointment. Sometimes she is in the desert, praying or reading, and with emblems of penance. Her figure is always symbolic of Christian penitence.

Fresco, " Noli me Tangere," by Fra Angelico, in San Marco, Florence, and picture by Titian, in the Pitti. Series of frescoes by Ferrari, in San Cristoforo, Vercelli.

MARY THE VIRGIN, ST. (Biblical). (2nd Feb-ruin)), 25th March, 15th August, 2nd July, 8th September)

According to the Apocryphal Gospel of the Life of Mary, Joachim of Nazareth espoused Anna, a maiden of Bethlehem. They both " did right in the sight of the LORD," dividing their substance into three parts—one for the Temple and its ministers, another for pilgrims and the poor, and a third for themselves and their household. After living twenty years without children, they vowed to the LORD that if He would give them a child, they would dedicate it to Him. Joachim used to go up to Jerusalem for the great feasts, and at the Feast of the Dedication, being repelled by the High Priest as childless, and unworthy to bring an offering, he went apart into the wilderness, and abode with the shepherds. There an angel appeared to him, and promised him a daughter, who was to be called Mary, and consecrated to the LORD, for she should be the mother of the Saviour of all nations. As a sign, the angel told him that on his return he would meet his wife at the Golden Gate of Jerusalem, coming to welcome him. The same angel appeared to Anna, with the same message, and she and her husband met, rejoicing, at the gate.

When the child was born they called her Mary, and at three years old (though generally represented as much older) they brought her to the Temple, to dedicate her to the LORD ; and she ascended the fifteen steps leading up to the altar with-out assistance. This is a very favourite subject for pictures, called the "Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple." Mary lived in the Temple, learning and working, and grew in grace, wisdom, and stature. When she was fourteen the High Priest commanded that she, and the other virgins of the Temple, should return home, and marry, according to the custom of their nation. As she refused, the elders were summoned to consider the matter. While they prayed, a voice from the sanctuary commanded that every unwedded male of the House of David should place his rod on the altar, when the rod of him who should be the spouse of Mary would bud, and the Holy Spirit as a dove would descend on it. There was among them a certain Joseph, an old man, and a widower, who, thinking him-self too old, kept back his rod. When no miracle took place the High Priest called for Joseph, who presented his rod, and it came to pass as the voice had said. It was then clear to all men that he was the chosen spouse, and they were accordingly married. An old tradition says that the other suitors' broke their wands in anger.

An ancient legend relates that the Tiburtine Sibyl appeared to the Emperor Augustus, and announced the birth of CHRIST, a short time before the event. The Emperor inquired of the sibyl whether he should allow himself to be worshipped with divine honours, and she, taking him apart, showed him an altar, above which was the Virgin, with the Infant CHRIST, enthroned in glory ; and a voice said : "This is the altar of the Son of the Living GOD." Then Augustus caused an altar to be built on the Capitoline Hill, where in after times the Church of the Ara Coeli was erected.

There is a legend that, in their flight from Bethlehem, the Holy Family passed some husbandmen sowing corn in a field, and the Virgin told them that if anyone asked when the Son of Man passed by, they should say : " When we were sowing the corn." During the night the corn grew up and ripened, and the next day, when Herod's soldiers came, the men were harvesting it. They replied as they had been told, and the pursuit was stayed. In the subject called a "Riposo," the Holy Family are seen resting under a tree, during their flight into Egypt, or while sojourning there.

The story of the life of the Virgin in the Gospels has been elaborated and amplified by tradition to an almost inconceivable extent. Pictures of the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Presentation in the Temple, and the Flight into Egypt are all so universal and well known that they need no comment. The Virgin is represented in pictures of the Finding of CHRIST in the Temple, and of the Death of Joseph, which is supposed to have taken place before the beginning of CHRIST'S ministry. She also appears at the Marriage at Cana, and is occasionally introduced into other scenes, when not specially mentioned in the Gospels, and in a traditional farewell with her Son before His death, counted as one of the " Seven Sorrows of Mary." . In pictures of the Procession to Calvary, the Crucifixion, the Descent from the Cross, and the Entombment, she is almost invariably present. A frequent subject is the " Deposition," representing the dead body of CHRIST laid upon the ground, or resting on the lap of his mother. This is called a " Pieta," but more properly so when only the figures of CHRIST and the Virgin (sometimes attended by angels) are seen. There is a very early tradition that, after His Resurrection, CHRIST appeared first of all to His mother, bearing a banner with the cross upon it, and surrounded by a company of angels,-patriarchs, and prophets ; and she is generally seen in pictures of the Ascension, and of the Descent of the Holy Ghost. Many representations of the Madonna, especially those of later date, refer to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

There are few representations of her later years, except those connected with her Death and Assumption, the scenes of which consist of seven distinct events : (I) The announcement to her of her death by the Archangel Michael, bearing a palm ; (2) Her leave-taking of the apostles ; (3) Her death ; (4) She is borne to the sepulchre ; (5) Her entombment ; (6) Her assumption to heaven ; (7) Her coronation and enthronement by the side of her Son. In pictures of her death the figure of CHRIST is often introduced, among a group of saints receiving the departing soul.

(For the legend of the Girdle, see ST. THOMAS.)

MATTHEW, ST. (Biblical). (See EVANGELISTS.) (21st September)

According to tradition he preached in Egypt and Ethiopia, where he performed many miracles, restoring the son of a king to life, and healing his daughter of leprosy. One tradition describes his martyrdom under Diocletian, but according to another he died in peace.

He is represented writing, with an angel dictating to him, or holding an inkhorn ; or a bag, to signify his profession of tax gatherer, or sitting at the receipt of custom.

MATTIAS, ST. (Biblical). (Ital. SAN MATTIA.) (24th February)

According to tradition he preached the Gospel in Judĉa, and suffered martyrdom at the hands of the Jews, either by the lance or by the axe. In Italian pictures the former is his attribute, in German ones the latter.

MAURICE, ST. (Ital. MAURIZIO). (Patron Saint of Foot-soldiers, and of Savoy.) (22nd September)

He was commander of the Theban Legion of the Roman army. It numbered 6666, all Christians, and when, in the year 286, it was summoned by the Emperor Maximin to join his army, then invading Gaul, Maurice and some companies were called upon to join in idolatrous rites, and to help in extirpating the Christians. This they refused to do, and the Emperor twice ordered the legion to be decimated by lot, but the remainder continued steadfast ; so a general massacre was ordered, and they perished to a man. Legend also relates that St. Gereon, with another section, met with a similar fate at Cologne.

He is generally represented in armour, with a sword and banner.

Legend represented by Luini in frescoes at San Maurizio, Milan.

MAURUS, ST. (See ST. BENEDICT.) (15th January)


Tradition says he was one of the seventy-two disciples sent forth to preach, and that he went with SS. Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, to Marseilles. (See ST. MARY MAGDALENE.) According to a legend he gave the Sacrament to St. Mary just before her death.

He often appears in pictures of St. Lazarus and his sisters, sometimes as a bishop.

MICHAEL, ST. (the Archangel). (Ital. SAN MICHELE or SAMMICHELE.) (29th September)

The chief of the Celestial Host, and victor over the powers of evil. Hence he represents the triumph of the spiritual over the material. He is the Lord and Arbiter of souls, and the Guardian Angel of the Hebrews. He appears in Old Testament scenes as the messenger angel. He also announced her death to the Virgin Mary. (See ST. MARY VIRGIN.)

He is represented winged, with spear and shield, overcoming the dragon ; also with a banner and cross, sometimes with a sceptre ; or weighing the souls of men in a balance.

A notable picture of him by Perugino is in the National Gallery.


According to the Florentine legend, an Armenian prince, who served in the Roman army under Decius. He was denounced as a Christian, brought before the Emperor, and thrown to the beasts in the Amphitheatre. When this and all the usual tortures failed, he was beheaded, in 254.

MONICA, ST. (See ST. AUGUSTINE.) (4th May)

Home | More Articles | Email: