Amazing articles on just about every subject...

The Saints In Art - B

( Originally Published 1908 )

BARBARA, ST. (Patroness of Armourers and Fortifications). (4th December)

According to legend, she was the daughter of a nobleman, named Dioscorus, of Heliopolis. He loved her so dearly that, fearful lest she should be taken from him in marriage, he shut her up in a solitary tower. Here she contemplated, and meditated on the stars, and despised the false gods of her parents. She heard of the fame of Origen and his teaching at Alexandria, and wrote to him secretly for instruction in the Faith. Origen sent her one of his disciples, disguised as a physician, and by him she was taught and baptised. During her father's absence from home she made the workmen, who were constructing a splendid bathroom in her tower, put in three windows instead of two. When questioned by her father about it, she said that light came into her soul through three windows—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. He was enraged at her conversion to Christianity, and, all his love for her turning to hate, he tried to kill her. Though she was miraculously rendered invisible and concealed for a time, he found her at length, and, after all endeavours to persuade her had failed, he cut off her head with his own hand, on a mountain near the city. As he came down after the martyrdom, fire descended from heaven and destroyed him, so that not a trace remained.

She is represented with crown and palm of martyrdom, often with a book, but her distinguishing attribute is a tower, often with three windows. She is invoked against sudden death, in the belief that she will save people from dying without the last sacraments ; hence she is sometimes represented with the cup and wafer.

Pictures by Palma Vecchio in S. Maria Formosa, Venice, and by Matteo di Giovanni, in S. Domenico, Siena.

BARNABAS, ST. (Biblical). (11th June)

Tradition says that, when he went forth preaching, he carried with him the original copy of the Gospel of St. Mark, and with it performed many miracles. He was the first Bishop of Milan.

He is represented with St. Paul or St. Mark, sometimes holding St. Mark's Gospel in his hand.

BARTHOLOMEW, ST. (Biblical). (24th August)

By some identified with Nathanael. Ac-cording to tradition he preached the Gospel in India and the Far East. Returning through Armenia and Asia Minor, he suffered martyrdom at Albanopolis. He was flayed alive, and then crucified.

He is represented of a dark complexion ; sometimes holding his skin in his hand. His attribute is a large knife.

BASIL, ST. (the Greek Father). (14th June)

Was born in 328, and belonged to a family of saints. He was the fellow-student of St. Gregory Nazianzen and Julian the Apostate. He became Bishop of Caesarea in 370, and came into conflict with the Emperor Valens over the Arian controversy. He wrote in-numerable theological works, and founded monachism in Asia Minor. He died in 379.

He is represented as one of the Greek Fathers, generally distinguished by his name inscribed.

BAVON, ST. (Flem. ST. BAF). (1st October)

The Patron Saint of Ghent and Haarlem. A nobleman of Brabant, born about 589, who lived for nearly fifty years a worldly, dissipated life. Then the preaching of St. Amand induced him to give away all that he had, and to retire, as a hermit, to a forest near Ghent, where he lived in a hollow tree, on wild herbs, till he died, about 657.

He is represented either as a prince with a falcon, or as a hermit in a hollow tree. Some-times a large stone, which he used to carry as a penance, is seen beside him.


The Founder of the Benedictine Order. He was born of a noble family in Spoleto, in 48o, and was sent to study at Rome, where he showed great promise, but disgusted at the prevailing profligacy, and attracted by the teaching of St. Jerome on the efficacy of solitude, he became a hermit, at the age of fifteen. His nurse, Cyrilla, who had never left him, tried to follow him, but he fled secretly, and hid in the wilderness of Subiaco. Here he underwent many temptations, and once, distracted by earthly desires, he threw himself into a thicket of briars, and arose bleeding, but calm. He tended the poor and sick, and after a time a society of hermits succeeded in making him its head. But his life was too strict for them, and one of them tried to poison him in a cup of wine. The saint, however, made the sign of the cross before drinking, and, so legend tells us, the cup miraculously fell to the ground, and broke. Then St. Benedict returned to Subiaco, and, with the help of his many disciples, founded twelve monasteries. Among those who were brought to him were two boys, Maurus and Placidus, sons of Roman senators. Both afterwards became famous—St. Maurus introducing the Benedictine Rule into France, where it flourished exceedingly, and St. Placidus into Sicily, where his sister, St. Flavia, joined him, and was martyred with him. St. Benedict had a powerful enemy, Florentius, who did all he could to destroy his work, attempting to take his life, and to draw his disciples into temptation. When he heard that on Monte Cassino the worship of Apollo still continued, he went and preached there, prevailed on the people to destroy all traces of idolatry, and laid the foundation of what has since been regarded as the parent monastery of his Order. There he promulgated his Rule —a perpetual vow of poverty, chastity, and obedience, combined with manual labour. For fourteen years he ruled over his con-vent at Monte Cassino, and his latter days were cheered by the help of his sister, Scholastica, who is considered the first Benedictine nun. He died in 543. Innumerable legends of his miracles are related.

He is usually represented bearded, generally in a black, but sometimes in a white, habit, holding the asperges (for sprinkling holy water), or his pastoral staff as abbot ; some-times with a raven, or broken cup, or broken sieve, or with a book.

Frescoes by Spinello Aretino in San Miniato,Florence,and picture by Memling in Uffizi.

BENEDICT (or BENNET BISCOP), ST. (12th January)

Born of a noble Northumbrian family, he founded, in 677, two important monasteries at Wearmouth and Jarrow, which he adorned with many pictures. He made five journeys into Italy, and brought back architects, sculptors, and workers in metal. He also laboured for the improvement of Church music, and of education generally. Bede was among his pupils.

BERNARD, ST. (of Clairvaux). (20th August)

The importance of St. Bernard as a subject of art bears no proportion to his importance in history, or a long account of his life would be his due. He was born near Dijon, of noble parentage, in 1090. He studied at the University of Paris, and at the age of twenty entered the Benedictine Monastery of Citeaux, where the Reformed Order of Cistercians had lately been instituted. A few years later, this monastery becoming over-crowded, the Abbot sent St. Bernard on a mission to found another. He wandered forth with twelve monks, and came to a wilderness, which in due time, by dint of hard work, became a smiling land, and on it arose the Abbey of Clairvaux. St. Bernard became the leading ecclesiastic and politician of his age, the counsellor of popes and kings, and the theological adversary of Abelard. Worn out by his fiery zeal and rigorous life, he died at the age of sixty-three. His writings had great authority. Legend says that when he was writing his famous " Homilies on the Song of Solomon," in praise of the Virgin, she herself appeared to him, and moistened his lips with the milk from her bosom, giving him ever afterwards super-natural eloquence. He is remarkable for his extreme devotion to the Virgin, and the white habit of the Cistercians was said to have been adopted by her special command to him in a vision.

He is represented in the white habit of the Cistercians, carrying a book, or writing in it, or presenting books to the Madonna. His vision is a favourite subject, notable examples being Fra Lippo Lippi's, in the National Gallery, and Filippino Lippi's, in the Badia, Florence.

BERNARDINO, ST. (of Siena, Founder of the Observants). (20th May)

Born of a noble family at Massa in 1380. When he was yet a youth, plague broke out in Siena, and many priests and physicians died. St. Bernardino, assisted by some other young men, nursed the sick day and night for months. At twenty-three he took the Franciscan habit, and preached through-out Italy with marvellous success. He re-fused several bishoprics, preferring the simple life of a friar. He founded the Re-formed Order of Franciscans, called " Osservanti," because they observed the original Rule of St. Francis. Always delicate, and all too zealous for work, he was taken ill at Naples, and died at Aquila. It is said that, while preaching, he used to hold in his hand a tablet, on which was carved the sacred monogram, I.H.S., encircled by rays. He is generally regarded as the founder of the " Monte-di-Pietà," an institution for lending money to the poor, intended to protect them from extortionate usurers.

He is represented in his Franciscan habit, holding a tablet with the Sacred Monogram, I.H.S., or a "Monte-di-Pietà," composed of three little mounds, with a cross, or a standard, bearing a "Pietà," planted upon it.

Pictures by early Sienese artists at Siena, altar-piece by Moretto of Brescia in the National Gallery. His shrine at Aquila is notable.


Born in 1272, of a noble Sienese family, he became a distinguished Professor of Law in his native city ; but in middle life retired from the world, to Monte Oliveto, about ten miles from Siena. Here he founded the " Congregation of the Blessed Virgin of Monte Oliveto," or " Olivetani," and placed them under the Rule of St. Benedict. He died in 1348.

He is represented in the white Benedictine habit, with an olive branch in his hand.

BLAISE, ST. (Ital. SAN BIAGIO). (3rd February)

He was Bishop of Sebaste, in Cappadocia, and, according to legend, fled from the persecutions of Diocletian to a mountain cave, where lions, tigers, and bears became tame at his approach, and visited him daily to ask his blessing. When wild beasts were wanted for the amphitheatre, hunters came to the cave, and finding St. Blaise and the animals sitting at peace together thought him a wizard, and brought him before the governor. On the way he performed miracles. He was scourged and imprisoned, but continuing firm in his faith he was then stripped, and, his flesh having been torn with the iron combs used for carding wool, was finally beheaded.

He is represented as a bishop, with combs, the instruments of his torture, as his attribute, or in a cave with wild animals.

BONAVENTURA, ST.("The Seraphic Doctor"). (14th July)

Born in Tuscany, in 1221. When an infant, and very ill, he was laid by his mother at the feet of St. Francis, who exclaimed, " O buona ventura," and he was cured. Hence his name. He was brought up in piety, and when twenty-two took the Franciscan habit. He went to Paris to complete his studies, and in a few years became a celebrated teacher. Legend says that when, deeming himself unworthy, he did not present himself to receive the Sacrament, the Host was brought to him by the hand of an angel. Though remarkable for his humility, he was greatly honoured by Louis IX., and in 1256 became General of the Franciscan Order. Some years later, he was made cardinal, and Bishop of Albano. When two nuncios came from Pope Gregory X., to present him with the cardinal's hat, they found him in the garden of a convent near Florence, washing his plate after dinner ; and he told them to hang the hat on a tree till he had finished. The great council at Lyons, in 1274, held to reconcile the Greek and Latin Churches, in which he took a leading part, proved too exhausting for his strength, for he died shortly after.

He is represented in the Franciscan habit, sometimes in a mitre, or cardinal's hat, or with the latter hanging on a tree. Often he carries the Host, or an angel is giving it to him.

Fresco by Fra Angelico in the Chapel of Nicholas V. in the Vatican ; picture by Moretto in the Louvre.

BONIFACE, ST. (Primate of Germany). (5th June)

The monk, Winfred, was born in Devonshire, and taught in a Benedictine Abbey near Winchester. In middle life he conceived a great desire to go and preach the Gospel in Germany, and went to Rome to solicit aid from Pope Gregory II. Here he changed his name to Boniface. He then started on his mission, visiting Thuringia, Bavaria, and Saxony, and in 732 was created Primate of all Germany, and soon afterwards first Bishop of Mainz. In his seventy-fourth year he set out again on a missionary journey, and, with St. Ambrose's "De Bono Mortis" in his cloak, penetrated for the second time into Friesland. There he was murdered by the pagans. His blood-stained book was exhibited for many centuries as a relic.

He is represented as a bishop, in one hand the crozier, in the other a book pierced by a sword, or baptising a convert, with one foot on a prostrate oak, the symbol of Druidism.

BRIDGET, ST. (of Sweden). (8th October)

Not to be confounded with St. Bridget of Ireland. She was connected with the royal family of Sweden, married to Ulf Gudmarsson, and the mother of eight children. After her husband's death she founded the monastery of Wastein, for sixty nuns and twenty-four monks, under the Rule of St Augustine. The nuns have always been called " Briggittines."

She afterwards went to Rome, where she persuaded the Pope to introduce reforms, and dictated her celebrated work " Celestial Revelations." After a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, she died at Rome, in 1373, was canonised in 1391, and has since been regarded as one of the Patron Saints of Sweden.

She is represented as of mature age, in nun's attire, bearing the crozier of an abbess, and sometimes the pilgrim's staff and wallet. A picture of her, delivering the Rule of her Order, by Sogliani is in the Uffizi, Florence.

BRUNO, ST. (Founder of the Carthusian Order). (6th September)

He was born at Cologne, and educated at Rheims. Becoming distinguished for his ability, he was appointed teacher of theology at Rheims. Here he persuaded six of his friends to join him in a life of seclusion and penance, and, after giving away their possessions, they set out for Grenoble. In the meantime, Hugo, Bishop of Grenoble, had a dream, in which he saw seven stars move before him, and stand over a certain spot in his diocese. When Bruno and his companions arrived, and asked him for a retreat from the world, he saw the fulfilment of his dream, and gave them some land at Chartreux, where they founded a monastery, afterwards "La Grande Chartreuse." His Rule was more austere than that of the other Reformed Benedictines, and his monks were most industrious, both in cultivating the land and in transcribing books. He went to Rome to help Pope Urban I l., one of his old pupils ; but, finding life at the Papal Court uncongenial, retired to a desert in Calabria, where he founded " La Torre," another convent of his Order. There he died in 1101, but was not canonised till five hundred years later.

He is represented with shaven head, in the loose habit of the Carthusians, distinguished by the white scapular, hanging down before and behind, and joined at the sides by bands.

Picture by Quercino, in Gallery of Bologna.

Home | More Articles | Email: