October 20, 2023

How to recognize these 5 Christian martyrs in paintings

Christian martyrs are often remembered through grim attributes that serve as poignant reminders of the agonizing ordeal they endured due to their faith.

1. Saint Laurence

patron saint of cooks, chefs, and comedians

Francisco de Zurbarán,
"Saint Laurence"
(1636)

Burned on a rack

As he endured the excruciating torment of being cooked, the story goes that he turned to his tormentors and calmly uttered:

“I’m done on this side, flip me over”

2. Saint Sebastian

patron saint of soldiers, archers, and plague

Tommaso,
"Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian"
(15th century)

Shot by arrows

His survival from a rain of arrows did little to sway the Roman emperor who had issued his death sentence. He was then brutally beaten, and his lifeless body cast aside into a sewer.

3. Saint Catherine

patron saint of girls, students, philosophers, and craftsmen working with wheels

Caravaggio,
"Saint Catherine of Alexandria"
(1598)

Breaking wheel

Initially condemned to the breaking wheel, she left onlooker astounded when the wheel disintegrated at her mere touch. As the execution proceeded with a beheading, legend has it that instead of blood, a milk-like substance flowed from her severed neck...

4. Saint Peter Martyr

patron saint of inquisitors and midwives

Pedro Berruguete,
"Saint Peter the Martyr"
(c. 1493-1499)

Murdered by cleaver

Vengeful Venetian nobles hired his assassins in response to Peter's persecution of heretics.

5. Saint Lucy

patron saint of the blind

Domenico Beccafumi,
"Saint Lucy"
(1521)

Eyes removed

Paschasius commanded his guards to remove her eyes when she prophesied his impending punishment. Another version has Lucy taking her own eyes out in order to discourage a persistent suitor who was captivated by them.

A shared symbol among all martyrs is the palm leaf of victory, reminiscent of what Greek or Roman athletes received upon winning sporting contests.Martyrs are victorious in death, reborn in Heaven.

Spot a palm leaf - Spot a martyr