SAINTS IN SIENESE ART

 

This is a brief description of the saints most portrayed in Sienese art with an indication of the symbols which identify them.

 

                                      

St AGATHA (Sant’ Agata)

 

   A virgin martyr from Roman times, from Catania in Sicily. She was a girl of noble family who was pursued by a senior Roman official. She resisted his advances and in revenge he caused her to be tortured in various ways, including the cutting off of her breasts. She is portrayed in art rather macabrely carrying her cut-off breasts on a dish. By an association of shapes, she became the patron saint of bell-founders, and plump round loaves are blessed in church on her feast day.

 

St AGNES  (Sant’ Agnese)

 

   A Roman martyr, circa 300 AD. Little of known of her life, except that she was a virgin who refused to marry, and was very young when she died, perhaps no more than 12 or 13. She was supposed to have been killed by being stabbed in the throat by a sword. Doubtless because of the similarity of her name with the Latin word for lamb, agnus, her symbol is a lamb. She is often portrayed in Sienese painting as one of the saints standing on either side of the Virgin, easily recognisable by the small lamb that she carries.

 

BLESSED AGOSTINO NOVELLO

 

Born in Sicily, he became so learned that the King of Sicily appointed him one of his counsellors. But after being nearly killed in battle, he decided to become a humble monk and entered a monastery in Tuscany. The monastery had a legal dispute with a Sienese lawyer and Agostino acted for the monastery in this case. The lawyer then recognised him as a fellow student from the days when they studied law together and told the monastery that they were harbouring a most learned man. The result was that he was promoted within the Order, eventually rising to become its head. He finally retired to live in retirement at the monastery of San Leonardo near Siena, where he became known for his ardent charity and also for a number of miracles. The Sienese adopted him as their own, and he and his miracles were a favourite subject for Sienese artists (he is usually portrayed swooping down from above like superman to perform them).

 

 

St AMBROSE (Sant’ Ambrogio)

 

   St Ambrose was one of the four great Latin doctors of the church, along with St Jerome, St Augustine and St Gregory the Great. He was the Governor of the Roman province of Aemilia and Liguria, the capital of which was Milan, and subsequently became Bishop of Milan, in response to popular acclaim. He played an important role in the politics of that bit of the Roman Empire. He also wrote on various doctrinal subjects, and is often portrayed in Sienese polyptiches carrying a book and wearing a red cardinal's hat - although cardinals were not invented until much later, the doctors of the church are usually given honorary cardinal status in sacred art. Often he is not wearing the hat, but it is discreetly placed in a corner of the painting.t.

 

 

St ANDREW (Sant’ Andrea)

 

   One of the 12 apostles and the brother of St Peter, both brothers being fishermen on the Sea of Galilee by trade. He was ordered to be crucified. When he expressed himself honoured to be done to death in the same way as Christ, his persecutors tried to spite him by crucifying him on a cross shaped like an X (the St Andrew’s Cross or saltire on the Scottish flag). He is often portrayed with a fishing-net or with his X-like cross.

 

 

St ANNE (Sant’ Anna)

 

   Said to be the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary, she and her husband Joaquim had been childless for many years when an angel appeared separately to each of them to tell them that they would have a child. St Anne promised to dedicate this child to God. The birth of the Virgin is a favourite image in Sienese painting, usually showing St Anne on a bed, the baby being washed and Joachim in an ante-chamber being told of the birth. Another subject (e.g. in the Beccafumi fresco in the Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala) is the meeting of St Anne and St Joaquim at the Golden Gate of Jerusalem after being told by the angel of their forthcoming child.

 

 

St ANSANUS (Sant’ Ansano)

 

   An early Italian saint who was converted to Christianity at the age of 12 but was denounced to the authorities by his own father. He escaped and converted so many people in the towns of Siena and Bagnorea that he became known as the ‘Baptiser’ or the ‘Apostle of Siena’. He was beheaded in Siena in 304, during the persecutions of Diocletian. He became one of Siena’s four patron saints (the others being St Victor, St Crescentius and St Savino), until all four were displaced by St Catherine and St Bernardino.

 

 

St ANTHONY THE HERMIT (or St Anthony Abbot) (Sant’ Antonio Abate)

 

   A third century saint, when he was about 20, he went to live in the desert near his home in Lower Egypt, spending his time in prayer. He underwent violent temptations, spiritual and physical, e.g. being beaten by devils. He successfully overcame his temptations and spent the rest of his life living in a cave near the Red Sea, gathering disciples around him. This desert group became the first monastic community, so St Anthony is the father of monasticism. So healthy was his austere desert life that he lived to be over 100. In the 12th century, an order called Hospitallers of St Anthony was founded which became known for curing ergotism (St Anthony’s fire). The Order used to go around ringing little bells to attract alms; they also had the special privilege of being allowed to let their pigs roam freely in the street. Hence St Anthony’s symbols are a pig and a bellHe is usually portrayed in a rocky desert landscape, in or near a cave.

 

 

St ANTHONY OF PADUA (Sant’ Antonio di Padova)

 

Originally from Portugal, he became a Franciscan friar and spent most of his life in Italy, where he gained fame as a preacher. Once when on the seashore without an audience, he began preaching to the fishes, who all stuck their heads out of the water. He was also an impressive theologian and is one of the great Doctors of the Church.  He is buried at Padua and his grave has become a shrine, attracting many pilgrims. He is also credited with many miracles. He is usually portrayed in the brown Franciscan robes with a rope as a belt and sandals, and is often shown carrying the baby Jesus in his arms.

 

 

St ANTIMO (Sant’ Antimo)

 

Little is known of St Antimo, but he appears to have been a Roman Christian who was ordained a priest and effected various conversions before being martyred in the fourth century. He does not appear much in painting, but a number of churches are called after him, notably the wonderful Abbey of St Antimo near Montalcino.

 

 

St AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO (Sant’ Agostino Monaco)

 

   Born in Algeria in 345, the son of St Monica, he became one of the great doctors of the church. As a young man he underwent agonising internal conflicts between the desire to marry and have a worldly life and an impulsion to dedicate himself to God.  God won, and he formed a monastic community, the Augustinian friars who still exist today. His works are a major part of Western philosophical thought, although their influence has not always been happy.

 

   He is not much portrayed in Sienese art, which prefers his namesake, the local Blessed Agostino Novello (see above), but both he and his mother St Monica appear in frescoes in the monastery of San Leonardo al Lago. There is also an excellent cycle of frescoes illustrating his life in the church of San Agostino in San Gimignano.  He is usually dressed as a monk.  As he was also long Bishop of Hippo, he is occasionally shown in episcopal vestments with pastoral staff, sometimes with a heart of fire.

 

 

St BARTHOLOMEW (San Bartolomeo)

 

One of the Apostles. He is said to have been flayed alive before being beheaded. He is usually portrayed as dark-haired, bearded and of middle age, carrying the knife with which he was flayed.

 

 

St BENEDICT (San Benedetto)

 

   Founder of the Benedictine order. Born around 480 at Norcia in Umbria, he went to study in Rome, but was put off the gay urban life and retreated to Subiaco to live as a hermit. A community of monks then invited him to be their abbot, and from that grew one of the great monastic orders. His story is told in the wonderful cycle of frescoes in the cloister of the abbey of Monteoliveto Maggiore. He is normally dressed as a monk, in the white robes of the Benedictines.

 

St BERNARDINO (1380-1444)

 

   He is with St Catherine of Siena one of the city’s main patron saints and one of the most portrayed in Sienese art, instantly recognisable by his brown Franciscan robes and his hollow cheeks (he look as though he has left his false teeth at home). At the age of 20, when the staff of the local hospital died of the plague, he gathered together a group of young people to run the hospital and to nurse the plague victims. He then became a Franciscan friar and embarked on a hugely successful career as a popular preacher, the Billy Graham of his day. At the end of his sermons he would hold up a plaque with the initials IHS (from the Greek words for Holy Name of Jesus) surrounded by rays. This symbol is now found in churches all over the world, and no picture of St Bernardino is complete without it. Sometimes three mitres are shown at his feet, symbol of the three bishoprics he refused during his lifetime (Siena, Ferrara and Urbino). One remark attributed to him is “make it short, clear and to the point”, on the strength of which he is treated as the patron saint of advertisers.

 

 

 

St BLAISE (San Biagio)

 

   An early bishop said to have been martyred by the Romans in the 4th century. When he was first persecuted, he took refuge in a cave and became known for curing sick or wounded animals. He also removed a fishbone from a boy’s throat and is now the saint invoked in case of throat diseases. He is said to have been tortured with wool-combs, and his emblem is a comb. He is also shown as a hermit healing animals, and with two crossed candles (the mother of the boy with the fishbone had brought him candles as a gift).

 

 

St BONAVENTURE (San Bonaventura)

 

He was a Franciscan friar who lived from 1221-74. He became head of the Franciscan Order at an early age and did much to strengthen the order. He was also known as a theologian. Against his wishes, the Pope made him a cardinal and he played a prominent part in the Council of Lyon which unsuccessfully tried to negotiate a reunion with the Eastern Churches.

 

 

St CATHERINE OF ALEXANDRIA  (Santa Caterina d’Alessandria)

 

   A somewhat legendary fourth century saint. Of royal birth, she is said to have refused marriage with the Roman Emperor because she was a ‘bride of Christ’, and overcame in debate 50 philosophers who were sent to explain to her the errors of  Christianity. She protested against the persecution of Christians, and the authorities tried to martyr her by breaking her on a wheel (hence Catherine wheel fireworks), but the wheel broke. She was then beheaded. In art she is often shown with her broken wheel, and also often with a book, symbol of her erudition, and a palm or a sword. Sometimes she wears a crown in recognition of her royal birth.

 

 

St CATHERINE OF SIENA (c.1347-1380)

 

   One of the city’s patron saints, Catherine Benincasa was born of a large Sienese family in about 1347. She had visions from the age of seven, refused to marry and joined the Dominican Order, devoting herself to caring for the sick and needy (including patients in the Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala in Siena). She attracted a group of young people round her to help with her good works, so she obviously had a certain charisma. When she was about 30, she began to take an interest in affairs of state, mediating between Pope and civil government.

 

   There is a painting of her at the back of the church of San Domenico, painted if not from life at least by somebody who had known her. Another favourite subject is the Mystical Marriage of St Catherine with Christ - the latter usually portrayed as a child siting in the Virgin Mary's lap and slipping a ring onto St Catherine's finger. The story is based on a vision that St Catherine claimed to have had - a vision common to several other virgin saints.

St Catherine is often portrayed in Dominican black and white, carrying a lily, symbol of purity.

 

 

St CERBONE

 

   The patron saint of Massa Marittima. He was born in Africa in 493, but moved to Populonia, a major Etruscan town near what is now Piombino, on the coast near Massa.. He became its Bishop and set about converting the Maremma (as the surrounding region is known). He was accused of heresy, however, and papal messengers came from Rome to fetch him to answer the charges against him. He treated the messengers well, feeding them does’ milk, and went with them to Rome, accompanied by a gaggle of pious geese. When he arrived before the Pope, the geese miraculously appeared at his feet as a testament of his innocence.

 

   Having successfully refuted the charges against him, he faced another trial, being thrown to the bears by King Totila of the Goths, but the bears refused to eat him. St Cerbone was clearly afraid that he was not going to be so lucky a third time, as when the Lombard invaders arrived in that part of Italy, he promptly withdrew out of their way to Elba, where he died. Scenes from his life are depicted in the low relief above the main door of the Duomo in Massa Marittima, with the geese playing a starring role.

 

 

St CHRISTOPHER

 

   His name means ‘Christ-bearer’. He was allegedly a giant of a man who first decided to serve the devil, but on discovering that the devil was afraid of Christ and his cross, switched his allegiance to Christ. A hermit instructed him to perform Christian service by helping travellers to cross a river. Once a child asked Christopher to carry him across. The child proved incredibly heavy and almost impossible even for Christopher to carry. The child explained that he was Jesus Christ and that he carried the weight of the whole world. The scene of St Christopher carrying the child on his shoulders is frequent in art, and frescoes showing St Christopher are often as giant in size as their subject.

 

 

St CLEMENT – see St Just.

 

 

Sts COSMAS AND DAMIAN

 

   Early Christian martyrs who were twin brothers and doctors who offered their services for free. They are supposed to have performed the first transplant operation, by grafting a leg from a deceased African onto the body of a white man who had lost his through disease.

 

 

St CRESCENZIO

 

   One of the four patron saints of Siena in medieval times. He was a young boy from a noble Roman family who became a Christian in the time of the Emperor Diocletian and was martyred for his faith at the age of 11. His body (or most of it – other relics went elsewhere) was brought to Siena in 1058. There is a rather good early 15th century terracotta bust of him in the OPA Museum in Siena by Francesco di Valdambrino, an assistant of Jacopo della Quercia.

 

St ELIZABETH – see St John the Baptist.

 

St FRANCIS of Assisi (San Francesco) (1181-1286)

 

   The son of a wealthy cloth merchant in Assisi, he renounced his inheritance and even his clothes, dressing in sacking with a rope as a belt, and wearing sandals. He gathered together disciples and founded the Franciscan Order. It was a preaching order whose members aimed to live in poverty and simplicity. In 1224 he received the impression of the stigmata, Christ’s wounds from the Cross, which remained with him for the rest of his life. He is normally portrayed wearing his brown Franciscan robes with rope and sandals and visible stigmata.

 

St GALGANO

 

A saint known only in Tuscany. Galgano was a rich, aristocratic young man from Chiusdino, south of Siena, born in 1148. Overcome with spiritual longings, he deserted the gay and frivolous life interspersed with military activity that he was expected to lead.  He built himself a small wooden hut and became a hermit. To demonstrate to his mother and sister his resolution to shun henceforth frivolity and battles, he plunged his sword into a cleft in a rock which had appeared in the middle of his hut. After his death the hut became a shrine and a large Cistercian monastery was established nearby. The sword in the stone can still be seen, and is much portrayed in Sienese art.

 

St GEORGE (San Giorgio)

 

   An apocryphal third century martyr. He is said to have been a soldier in Palestine. His main claim to fame was for killing a dragon that was terrorising an unidentified country. The population appeased it by offering it two sheep every day, but when these ran out they offered maidens instead, chosen by lot. When the lot fell on the king’s daughter, St George came to the rescue and wounded the dragon so badly that it became weak enough to allow itself to be led to the king on a lead consisting of the princess’s belt. St George offered to kill the dragon and rid the kingdom of it once and for all if the population converted to Christianity, an offer that was enthusiastically taken up. He is normally portrayed in armour on a horse wounding the dragon with his spear.

 

 

St JEROME  (San Geronimo or Girolamo)

 

   Born in Dalmatia in the fourth century, he was one of the most learned men of the Church, making the first real translation of the Bible into Latin (then the main international language) out of the original Hebrew and Greek. He was, however, extremely argumentative and disputatious. At one point early in his career he had a dream in which God criticised him for being a Ciceronian rather than a Christian. He took this to heart and in penance spent several years as a hermit in a cave in the desert, befriending or being befriended by the local fauna, including a lion. In art he is often portrayed during this stage in his life, sitting in his cave with his pet lion. He is also shown writing at his desk, often with a cardinal’s hat nearby. Cardinals had not been invented in the fourth century, but his status as a great doctor of the church retrospectively gave him cardinal’s status.

 

St JOACHIM – see St Anne.

 

 

St JOHN THE BAPTIST (San Giovanni Battista)

 

   An itinerant preacher who went round baptising people, including Jesus. He lived on a diet of wild honey and locusts, and is usually portrayed dressed in a sheepskin or camelskin. His baptism of Christ in the river Jordan is a favourite scene in art, usually with the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove descending from heaven above Christ's head.

 

   John was the son of Zachariah, a temple priest, and his wife Elizabeth, who was a cousin of the Virgin Mary. They were childless and of advanced years when an angel appeared to Zachariah to announce that his wife would have a son. Zachariah would not believe it, so to prove the point the angel promptly struck him dumb  (he only recovered his voice after John's death). This scene is occasionally represented, as is the ‘Visitation’, when the Virgin Mary, shortly after the Annunciation, went to call on her cousin Elizabeth, who was by that time six months pregnant with John. St John is often portrayed as a child in pictures of the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus.

 

   The other favourite scene of artists is when Salome, the daughter of Herod and Herodias, asked her father for John's head on a plate as a reward for dancing before Herod at a feast. Herod was not slow to comply, as he had it in for St John the Baptist who had denounced the incestuous union between himself and Herodias - they were uncle and niece.

 

 

St JOHN THE EVANGELIST (San Giovanni Evangelista)

 

   Also known as St John the Apostle. Author of the fourth gospel and one of Christ's twelve Apostles. His symbol as an evangelist is an eagle. He was a Galilean fisherman who, with his brother James and St Peter, was called by Christ to join him. He is by traditional the disciple whom Christ loved the most, and is often portrayed leaning on Christ's breast at the Last Supper. According to John's gospel, when on the cross Christ entrusted his mother Mary to St John's care, and he is also often portrayed at the foot of the cross standing next to the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalen. Another of his emblems is a cup with a viper, in memory of a passage he is alleged to have had with a pagan priest of Diana of Ephesus who challenged him to drink a poisoned cup.

 

   St John is the patron saint of writers and all concerned with the production of books.

 

 

St JOSEPH (San Giuseppe)

 

   The husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary and foster-rather of Christ, described in the Bible as ‘an upright man’ who was betrothed to Mary and who agreed to marry her as planned when she became pregnant despite the fact that the child was not his. According to a legend, he was one of several suitors for her hand. They were all given rods and told that the one whose rod flowered would win her. Joseph’s rod grew a fine crop of lilies, and he is often portrayed carrying lilies. He was a carpenter by trade and is sometimes seen by his carpenter’s bench. Although the Bible makes no mention of his age, he is usually shown as an old man, much older than his wife.

 

 

St JUST (San Giusto)

 

St Just was a Christian from North Africa who came to Italy in the sixth century with his brother St Clement (San Clemente) and a third companion, St Octavian (Sant’ Ottaviano). Somehow the three of them fetched up in Volterra, then in a state of spritual and material decline. St Just became the city’s bishop and was instrumental in its recovery. When Volterra was threatened by the Gothic king Totila, St Just recalled the words of the Proverbs “If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat”. He collected all the bread of the city into baskets which were lowered to the bottom of the city walls. When the Goths arrived, they were so confused by both the absence of hostile archers and the smell of bread that they took fright and fled. St Just was understandably adopted as the patron saint of Volterra, but he also became very popular in other parts of Tuscany and a number of churches and manasteries are named after him, sometimes joinly with his brother Clement. In art he appears mainly in works connected with Volterra.

 

 

St LAURENCE (San Lorenzo)

 

  A third century Roman deacon, he was allegedly martyred by being roasted alive on a gridiron. He is usually shown either on the gridiron (or being led to it), or holding a mini-gridiron.

 

 

St LEONARD (San Leonardo)

 

A 6th century hermit. He was a Frankish noble who converted to Christianity. Because of his high birth and good connections, he was offered a bishopric but turned it down in favour of a hermit’s life. He came to the aid of Queen Clothilde of France when she went into labour while out hunting near his hermitage and is the patron saint of pregnant women. His cult was popular in Italy in the later Middle Ages and the hermitage of San Leonardo al Lago near Siena is named after him. The hermitage has a fresco with scenes of his life (or rather his miracles) by Lippo Vanni.  

 

 

St LOUIS IX of France (San Ludovico di Francia)

 

He was king of France from 1226-1270 and devoted his reign to the defence of Catholicism, crushing the Albigensians and going on two crusades. But he died of typhoid shortly after arriving with his crusaders in Tunis on his second crusade. He is normally represented in a crown and regal robes. He appears on the right hand side of the Maiestà in the Palazzo del Popolo in San Gimignano.

 

 

St LOUIS of Toulouse (San Ludovico di Tolosa)

 

Bishop of Toulouse and the great-nephew of St Louis of France. He lived from 1274-1297. From an early age he decided to devote his life to God. His father was King of Sicily, and wanted to marry him to a suitable princess, but he refused and renounced his right to the throne of Sicily in favour of his brother Robert and took holy orders, subsequently becoming a bishop at an exttremely young age. He appears fairly frequently in Sienese painting, most notably in one of the Lorenzetti frescoes in the church of San Francesco in Siena. He is often shown wearing his bishop’s robes and mitre, but sometimes with a fleur-de-lys embroidery to show his connection with the French Royal Family; or with a crown and sceptre at his feet in representation of the throne he renounced..

 

 

St LUCY (Santa Lucia)

 

   Early 4th century virgin and martyr. Allegedly from a wealthy Sicilian family in Roman times, she refused marriage and gave her goods to the poor. She was persecuted in various ways, including having her eyes torn out. They were, however, miraculously restored, and she was finally put to death by the sword. She is often portrayed holding a dish with her eyes on it.

 

 

St LUKE (San Luca)

 

   St Luke the Evangelist, the author of the third Gospel, was a doctor by profession. His symbol as an evangelist is an ox. He is said to have painted a portrait of the Virgin Mary, and is sometimes represented in Flemish - but not Italian - art in the act of painting her. He is the patron saint of doctors and artists.

 

 

St MARK (San Marco)

 

   St Mark the Evangelist, author of the fourth Gospel and a companion of Christ. His symbol as an evangelist is a winged lion. He is thought after Christ's death to have gone to Alexandria to preach, and died or was martyred there. His relics were brought to Venice in the ninth century and enshrined in the original church of St Mark's, the predecessor of today's St Mark's. He became the patron saint of Venice, which also took over the winged lion as its symbol.

 

St MARTIN (San Martino)

 

   A fourth century saint whose father was a pagan officer in the Roman army, which Martin also joined. But he became a Christian and decided that this was incompatible with military service. He was imprisoned for this early act of conscientious objection, but later released and became a monk and then Bishop of Tours. After his discharge from prison, he offered a poorly clad beggar half his cloak, the episode of his life most often portrayed in art.

 

 

St MARY MAGDALEN

 

   Tradition has it that she was a prostitute, and the "sinner" who anointed Christ's feet in the house of Simon in the Gospel of St Luke. She was present at his crucifixion, and is often portrayed at the foot of the cross with the Virgin Mary and St John the Evangelist. She was also one of those who went to his tomb and found it empty after the Resurrection, and was the first person to whom Christ appeared - both scenes which are also much depicted in art. She is frequently shown with very long hair, sometimes covering her nakedness -  an allusion to her penitence for the sinful life before she became a follower of Christ. Her emblem is the pot of ointment from which she had anointed Christ's feet.

 

 

St MATTHEW  (San Matteo)

 

St Matthew the Evangelist, author of the first Gospel. His symbol as an Evangelist is a man because his gospel emphasised the human ties of Christ. He was martyred, although it is unclear when and how. He is sometimes portrayed - for instance by Caravaggio - sitting at a desk writing his gospel, with an angel at his elbow guiding his hand or holding the inkwell. He is also portrayed on occasion with a sword or a spear (emblems of his martyrdom), or a money-bag or money-box as he was a tax collector before becoming one of Christ's Apostles.

 

 

St MICHAEL ARCHANGEL (San Michele)

 

  He was the principal fighter in the heavenly battle against Lucifer or the devil (often portrayed as a dragon). He is usually portrayed either as killing a dragon or  weighing souls at the Last Judgement – his intercession was said to be so powerful that souls could be rescued even from hell.

 

 

St MONICA

 

   The mother of St Augustine of Hippo who converted her North African family to Christianity. She is often portrayed in frescoes about the life of St Augustine.

 

 

St NICHOLAS the Bishop (San Niccolo Vescovo)

 

He was a fourth century Bishop of Myra in Lycia (Anatolia) who became well-known for the many miracles he performed. He was much admired in medieval Italy and an act sometimes portrayed in Tuscan art  is his gift of three bags of gold to provide dowries for three penniless girls who were about to be sold into prostitution. This particular act led to his becoming the patron saint of children, otherwise known as Santa Claus.

 

 

 

ST NICHOLAS OF TOLENTINO

 

A 13th century Augustinian friar who used to distribute bread to the poor at the gates of his monastery, a scene portrayed in art. He also had a reputation for curing sufferers.

 

 

St PAUL (San Paolo)

 

   Born shortly after Christ, he was first a persecutor of Christians but had a dramatic conversion to Christianity when he had a vision of Christ while travelling to Damascus. Thenceforth he became one of the main proseletysers of Christ’s doctrines and was highly influential in shaping early Christianity. He is usually portrayed as bald with a long dark beard, sometimes with a sword and a book.

 

 

St PETER  (San Pietro)

 

The leader of Christ’s 12 apostles, he counts as the first pope. He was martyred by crucifixion. When he told his killers that he felt honoured to be crucified like Christ, they tried to make his crucifixion different by putting his cross upside down. This scene occasionally appears in art, but more often he is shown in line-ups of saints carrying a key or a set of keys, representing the key of heaven.

 

 

St QUIRICUS or CYRICUS (San Quirico)

 

According to legend, the three-year-old St Quiricus and his mother St Julietta (Giulietta) came from Antioch and fled to Tarsus in the third or fourth century. There they were identified as Christians. Julietta was tortured, and when her son scratched the face of the Roman Governor, he was thrown down some steps and killed. His mother celebrated his martydom and was herself martyred. Popular both in France (as St Cyr) and in Italy, he is the patron saint of San Quirico d’Orcia in the Southern Senese.

 

 

St ROCK (San Rocco)

 

   Born in Montpelier of rich parents, when they died he gave all their wealth away and set off to Italy as a pilgrim. He became well-known for healing people of the plague with the sign of the cross. But he then caught the plague himself, and retreated to a hut in the forest. He was befriended by a dog which brought him food from its master’s table. He is usually portrayed with a pilgrim’s staff and a plague sore on his leg and is often accompanied by a dog.

 

 

St SABINUS (San Savino)

 

   Bishop of Spoleto, martyred by the Romans in 303 and subsequently one of the four patron saints of Siena who appear in the Maiestà of Duccio in the Museum of the OPA and in Simone Martini’s Maiestà in the Palazzo Pubblico. The Roman Governor of Etruria and Umbria apprehended him for revolt and required him to worship an idol of Jupiter. But  he refused and smashed the idol to the ground. His hands were cut off and he was thrown into prison, where he cured a blind youth. The local Roman prefect, who was suffering eye problems, sought his help and agreed with his family to convert to Christianity. But when the authorities in Rome heard about this, they sent an official to deal with them and Sabinus died from the beating he was given. He became much revered in Umbria and Tuscany. There is a town near Arezzo called Monte San Savino and several monasteries were named after him. He is usually represented in his bishop’s robes and mitre.

 

 

St SEBASTIAN

 

A Roman soldier, he was martyred by the Roman authorities when they discovered that he was a Christian. He was sentenced to be shot with arrows. This did not work, however, and he finally succumbed after being beaten with cudgels. He is usually portrayed naked or semi-naked, tied to a tree and stuck with anything from one to a dozen arrows (a small fresco in the Palazzo Pubblico shows him with no fewer than 18 arrows, symmetrically arranged). He was a favourite subject for Renaissance painters, largely because it gave them an excuse to paint a young male nude.

 

 

ST STEPHEN

 

   Mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, he was one of the seven deacons appointed by the Apostles to look after the distribution of alms. He was a zealous preacher and was stoned to death by the Jewish religious authorities for blasphemy in about 34 A.D., supposedly the first Christian martyr. He is sometimes portrayed with three stones in his hand.

 

 

ST THOMAS THE APOSTLE

 

One of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. Also known as Doubting Thomas because he did not believe that Christ had really risen from the dead until he had put his hand in the wound in Christ’s side. That much is recorded in the Bible, but later legend also has it that he also doubted that the Virgin Mary had really been bodily assumed into heaven. The Virgin is supposed to have dropped her belt down to him as she rose to heaven as a proof, a scene quite often portrayed in art. He (or the other Apostles) are also said to have opened her tomb to check whether it was really empty and found it full of roses, again a scene liked by artists. St Thomas is said to have later travelled to India to spread the Christian faith among the Jews of Kerala.

 

 

St URSULA (Sant’ Orsola)

 

A legendary saint, daughter of a king of Britanny, who with 11,000 virginal companions died in a massacre in Cologne while returning from a pilgrimage to Rome at some unknown early date in the Christian era. In art she often wears a crown or holds a pilgrim’s staff.

 

 

St VICTOR (San Vittore)

 

One of the early patron saints of Siena, along with San Ansano, San Crescenzio and San Savino. All four appear in the Maiestà of Duccio and that of Simone Martini. St Victor is a somewhat shadowy saint. He was apparently a Christian Roman soldier who was martyred for his faith by beheading in the time of Diocletian.

 

St ZACHARY or ZACHARIAH - see St John the Baptist