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ANDREW – (died 60 A.D.) – Andrew was a fisherman and the brother of Simon Peter. He, along with his good friends James and John, would become apostles of Jesus Christ.
Very few authoritative facts are known about Andrew. He apparently traveled as far as Greece spreading the Word of God and started churches along the way. Legend tells us that while he was at Achaia, he led the wife of Aegeas, the Roman Governor, to Christ and baptized her into the church. Aegeas was furious and demanded that the Christians immediately sacrifice to the Roman gods. Andrew went to him at Patras where he tried to persuade him to cast aside the false gods of the Romans and turn to the one true God, Jesus Christ. Aegeas would not listen to him and ordered Andrew to be put to death upon a cross in mockery of his Savior. Andrew was crucified on an X- shaped (saltire) cross. Andrew’s hands were tied, not nailed, to the cross so as to prolong his suffering. He would hang on the cross three days. As the days passed and Andrew remained alive, a cry started among the people to free him. According to an account by St. Augustine, Andrew, hearing their cries, prayed to God:
Lord, do not let me come down alive! It is time for you to entrust my body to the earth. You entrusted it to me, and I have borne it so long and watched over it and worked so hard, and now I wish to be discharged of this obedience and relieved of this most burdensome garment. I think of how I have labored to carry its weight, to control its unruliness, to support its weakness, to compel its slow responses. You know, O Lord, how often it has struggled to draw me away from the purity of contemplation and awaken me from the repose of that most sweet stillness, how many and how grave pains it has inflicted on me. O most kind Father, I have resisted the assaults of this body for so long, and with your help I have mastered it. Just and loving Rewarder, I beg of you not to leave it any longer in my care! I give back what you entrusted to me. Commend it to the earth so that I will not have to take care of it, and it will not curb and hamper me, thirsting as I am to come freely to you, the inexhaustible source of life and joy.1
And with that, Andrew passed from this life. Andrew was buried in Patras, where a church currently stands over the supposed site of his crucifixion. Over the centuries, legend tells us that a bishop in Patras, named Rule, was commanded by an angel to move the holy relics of the apostle in a northwestern direction until the angel told him to stop. The bishop obeyed, taking the relics to a town in Scotland that is now called St. Andrews. It is for this reason that Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland and the saltire cross is a part of Scotland’s national flag.
1. When Andrew is portrayed, he is old with unkempt, graying hair. He is usually symbolized by a Latin cross (early tradition) or the more common saltire cross (later tradition) which he was crucified upon. 2. A fishhook, net and crossed fish can also be used, referring back to his days as a fisherman. 3. A lesser used symbol is a builder’s square which is sometimes shown with a spear.
BARTHOLOMEW – (1st century) – It is thought that Bartholomew (mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke) is the same person as Nathaniel (John 1:45-51). According to tradition, Bartholomew took missionary journeys to India, Phrygia and Armenia. While he was preaching in Albanople, he was seized by the governor, flayed, crucified and then beheaded.
Bartholomew, for some reason, was not widely used in art or stained glass. 1. Bartholomew is portrayed with flaying knives, a cross with skin stretched on it, a Bible with a flay knife in it and/or a scimitar. These items reference his martyrdom. 2. A branch from a fig tree can also symbolize Bartholomew, referring to the time Jesus saw him from afar off, sitting under a fig tree.
JAMES THE GREATER – (died 44 A.D.) – James is known by many different names and titles, including James the Greater, Boanerges (a nickname given to James and John meaning “sons of thunder”), James the Major and James the Elder. He was so named to distinguish him from James, the son of Alphaeus, who is known as James the Lesser.
James was an apostle of Jesus Christ and the brother of the Apostle John. Their father was named Zebedee. James and John were fishermen and were together, mending their nets, when Jesus called them to become His disciples (Matthew 4:21-22). James was the first apostle to be martyred. He would be put to death by King Herod who found that killing prominent Christians was a way to find favor with the Jews.
The Bible tells us that James was beheaded in Jerusalem. However, a legend grew that James was buried in Compostela, Spain and that his body had been discovered there. This would make Compostela the third most visited site on the pilgrimage trail, after Jerusalem and Rome. The great connection of James with Spain would lead to James being appointed patron saint of that country.
1. Because Compostela was such a major pilgrimage site, James is often depicted as a pilgrim. He is shown with a wide brimmed hat, walking staff, coin purse and a scallop shell. Scallop shells were used by pilgrims to scoop water from streams to drink as they traveled on their way. 2. Another symbol of James is the sword, referring to how he was martyred.
JAMES THE LESSER (died 62 A.D.) – James is known by many different names and titles, including James the Lesser (to distinguish him from James the Greater, brother of John), James the Little (because of his small stature), James the Minor and James the Just (because he was righteous and holy). He was an apostle of Jesus Christ and the son of Alphaeus. Some scholars believe that James was the half brother of Jesus, who became the first bishop of Jerusalem. James was called the brother of our Lord, according to tradition, because James was from the same lineage as Jesus. Tradition also tells us that James looked strikingly similar to Jesus, as recorded by a letter from Ignatius to the Apostle John:
If I had your permission, I want to come up to Jerusalem to see the venerable James, surnamed the Just, who they say resembled Jesus Christ so closely in his features, his life, and his way with others that he might have been born his twin brother; so that, as they say, if I see James I see Christ Jesus so far as all bodily features are concerned.2
He was called James the Just because he was a very spiritual man. Hegesippus wrote about James in his Ecclesiastical History:
"James, the brother of our Lord, assumed the rule of the Church. He has universally been called the Just from the time of the Lord down to our own. From his mother’s womb he was holy. He drank no wine or strong drink, never ate meat, no razor ever came near his head, no oil anointed him, he never bathed. His clothing consisted of a linen garment. He knelt so often in prayer that his knees were calloused like the soles of his feet. For this ceaseless and surpassing righteousness he was called the Just and Abba, which is Interpreted to mean the stronghold of the people and righteousness. Because of his eminent sanctity he alone of the apostles was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies."3
James’ martyrdom is sketchy, with accounts suggesting that at 96 years of age he was thrown from the temple mount in Jerusalem, then stoned, clubbed and finally cut in half. 1. Because of the traditions of his martyrdom, the fuller’s bat, stones and a saw all represent James. 2. A windmill also represents James, but its symbolic meaning has been lost.
JOHN – (1st century) - John was an apostle, as well as the author of five books of the Bible: John, I John, II John, III John and Revelation. He was the brother of James the Great. He was the disciple whom Jesus loved and the disciple to whom, at the crucifixion, Jesus entrusted his mother Mary.
During John’s ministry tradition tells us that several attempts were made on his life. One such attempt involved a poisoned chalice. Legends differ as to how it happened. One account tells how John’s enemies wished to kill him. They tested a poisoned drink on two servants, both who drank it and immediately died. When they gave the chalice to John, he drank from it and lived. He then quickly raised the two dead servants back to life. The second account says that, at the temple of Diana in Ephesus, John was challenged to drink from a poisoned chalice that already killed two servants. He not only drank from the cup and lived but proceeded to raise the two dead men back to life as well.
The second attempt on John’s life came at the hand of Emperor Domitian. John was captured and thrown into a caldron of burning oil. Miraculously, John was not harmed by the burning oil.
Towards the end of his life, John would be exiled to the Island of Patmos where he saw visions of Heaven. These visions would be written down and become known as the book of Revelation. After his release from Patmos, John would retire to Ephesus, where apocryphal stories about his ministry there abound.
John is usually portrayed as being a young, beardless man but is sometimes shown as a white-haired elder. 1. The main symbol for John is that of the eagle. The eagle soars high into the sky towards Heaven where it meditates on God. It then returns to earth, bringing with it understanding of Heavenly mysteries. 2. Other symbols for John, the chalice and snake and the cauldron and eagle, refer to his miraculous escapes from death. 3. As an evangelist, he is sometimes shown writing or holding a book or scroll.
JOHN THE BAPTIST – (died 30 A.D.) – John was a prophet called by God to proclaim the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. John was a cousin to Jesus. John preached in the wilderness, encouraging the Jews to get ready for the coming Messiah. When Jesus appeared on the scene, it was John who baptized Jesus. After Jesus’ baptism, John’s ministry went into decline. He would be imprisoned and then put to death by Herod Antipas.
1. When portrayed in art, John the Baptist is distinguishable from the other apostles by his camel’s hair tunic, leather belt and locust. John may be holding a reed staff cross. 2. John is symbolized by a lamb, often in the midst of twelve lambs representing the twelve apostles. His lamb is the Lamb of God because he pointed out Jesus, the Lamb of God on earth. The Lamb should have a Trinitarian halo symbolizing Jesus. Sometimes the Lamb is accompanied by the Latin words “Ecce Agnus Dei” meaning, “Behold the Lamb of God.”
JOSEPH – (1st century) – Joseph was a descendant of King David and was married to Mary, who would give birth to Jesus, the Messiah. He was a carpenter by trade. 1. When portrayed in art, Joseph is most often portrayed with both Mary and the child Jesus. 2. A builder’s square symbolizes Joseph.
JUDAS ISCARIOT – (1st century) – Judas was an apostle of Jesus Christ who betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-16). After Judas realized what he had done, he went out and hanged himself (Matthew 27:3-9). 1. Judas’ symbol is usually an off yellow, blank shield. 2. A piece of rope and/or thirty pieces of silver represent Judas, referring to his betrayal.
JUDE – (1st century) – Jude, also called Lebbeus in the Gospel of Matthew and Thaddeus in the Gospel of Mark, was the brother of James the Lesser and was an apostle of Jesus Christ. Little is known about Jude with only one quote from him recorded in the Bible (John 14:22). He is credited with writing the book of Jude. Jude traveled widely with Simon and visited Arabia, Syria and Mesopotamia during his lifetime. Simon and Jude are often portrayed together. Tradition tells us that Jude was martyred by being clubbed to death.
1. A symbol of Jude is the knotted club, referencing his martyrdom. Sometimes a lance, halberd and inverted cross are used to represent him as a martyr. 2. A popular symbol of Jude is the ship, with its mast being in the form of a cross. A staff is also shown. Both represent Jude’s missionary journeys.
LUKE – (1st century) – Luke was a Gentile and a doctor by trade. He became an evangelist and would travel with Paul on some of Paul’s missionary journeys. Luke would author both the Gospel of Luke and The Acts of the Apostles. After the book of Acts a few short references concerning Luke are found in some of Paul’s letters. Little is know about Luke’s later life, although tradition has him dying a natural death in Greece at a very old age. 1. When portrayed in art, Luke is symbolized by an ox. The ox refers to how Luke’s Gospel opens, with Zacharias sacrificing an ox. 2. Luke’s Gospel focuses on the atoning work of Jesus. This work focused on His fulfilling the office of priest by being a mediator between sinners and God the Father. In this case, the ox, a sacrificial animal, can represent the atonement message found in Luke’s Gospel.
MARK – (died 74 A.D.) – Mark was an evangelist. He traveled with such great evangelists as his uncle Barnabas, Peter and Paul. Mark wrote one book in the New Testament, the Gospel of Mark. It is thought that Mark was Peter’s scribe. It is somewhat likely that, while Peter dictated to him, Mark wrote down what would become known as I, II, and III Peter. Tradition tells us that Mark was the first bishop of Alexandria. Supposedly, the Christian message was not well received there. On Easter Sunday, enemies of the Christian church burst into the Easter service that Mark was officiating. They put a rope around his neck and drug him through the streets until he was dead. He was buried in Alexandria. Legend goes on to say that some Venetian merchants discovered Mark’s body and took it back with them to Venice where it was enshrined in a chapel dedicated to him.
1. The symbol of Mark is the winged lion. This refers to the opening lines of the Gospel of Mark that speak of a voice crying in the wilderness, much like the roar of a lion in the wilderness. Mark’s Gospel account heavily focuses on Jesus’ Resurrection. A symbol of the Resurrection is the lion. 2. Mark can also be depicted as a man at a writing desk or holding a book or scroll referring to his role in writing a book of the Bible.
MARY – (1st century) – Mary was the mother of Jesus. Little is known about her after the birth of Jesus, as Biblical accounts of her are few. 1. When portrayed in art, she is often shown holding Jesus, either as a baby or as a small child. She is usually dressed in blue with a halo around her head. 2. Mary is portrayed standing on a crescent moon with twelve stars around her head. This alludes to the imagery of a woman in Revelation 12:1-5 who gave birth to the Messiah. 3. Mary is symbolized by a white lily to express her virginity and purity. 4. She is symbolized by a rose with no thorns. The rose has no thorns based on the Roman Catholic belief that Mary did not possess the sinful nature with which the rest of humanity was born. This was so Mary would be a pure vessel from which Jesus could be born. 5. A heart that is pierced with a sword symbolizes Mary. It is based on the warning that Simeon gave to Mary in the temple (Luke 2:35). 6. A large “M” represents Mary. 7. A crescent moon represents Mary. Just like the moon reflects the light of the sun, so too does Mary reflect the light of the Son.
MATTHEW – (1st century) - Matthew was an apostle of Jesus Christ and author of the Gospel of Matthew. He was called Levi in the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Luke. Matthew was a tax collector, an employee of the “evil” Roman Empire. This led to his being despised by fellow Jews. He gave up tax collecting after being called by Jesus to be His disciple.
Traditions vary greatly as to what Matthew did after the New Testament accounts of his life come to an end. Tradition tells us that he might have gone to Persia or Ethiopia and that perhaps he suffered martyrdom there. Matthew is traditionally portrayed as a middle-aged man and is sometimes wearing spectacles. 1. Various weapons used in Matthew’s martyrdom are used to symbolize him. The weapons are the sword, battle-axe, or halberd. 2. Other symbols are used that reference Matthew’s tax collector days such as a purse, money bag, money changer’s box and scales. 3. When portrayed as one of the four evangelists, he is symbolized as a man (sometime winged) because the opening of his Gospel contains the genealogy of Jesus. Matthew also focused more on Jesus’ humanity than he did on His divinity. He can also be shown as a man writing at a desk or holding a book or scroll which represents the Gospel of Matthew. 4. Some lesser used symbols are the Tau cross, a dolphin and an angel holding an ink-horn.
MATTHIAS – (1st century) – After Judas Iscariot, betrayed Jesus and then hanged himself, Matthias was chosen to take his place (Acts 1:15-26). Few facts are known about Matthias’ life after his inclusion in the twelve. His places of missionary work, like Asia Minor, the Caspian Sea and Ethiopia, and the way he was martyred, either by halberd or battle axe, are strangely similar to that of Matthew. This has led scholars to believe that Matthias was sometimes confused with Matthew. 1. When portrayed, Matthias is symbolized by a halberd, battle axe or scimitar, referring to his martyrdom. 2. Some other symbols that have been used are three stones and a lance, a book with halberd, a builder’s square and a battle axe with two stones. 3. When the twelve disciples are portrayed together, Matthias is often used as a substitute for Judas.
PAUL – (died 65 A.D.) – Paul, originally called Saul, was a well-educated Jew and famous persecutor of the early church. It would be through a powerful experience with God on the road to Damascus that Paul would be transformed into one of Christianity’s greatest apostles. He would eventually be known as the “Apostle to the Gentiles” for his tireless work taking the Gospel message to the Gentile nations. Due to the abundance of Biblical records regarding his life, I encourage you to read them for yourself, especially the books of Acts and Romans. Paul went on three missionary journeys that took him to Cyprus, Asia Minor, Greece, Macedonia and Acaea. Tradition tells us that he was martyred in Rome at the hands of Nero, on June 29th, the same day as the Apostle Peter. Because he was a Roman citizen, Paul was killed by beheading.
When portrayed, Paul is often depicted as having a very distinguished face: penetrating eyes, pointy beard and receding hairline. 1. Paul is symbolized by crossed swords, referring to his martyrdom. 2. A sword and open Bible with the words “Spiritus Gladius,” meaning “Sword of the Spirit” symbolizes Paul. 3. Three fountains of water can be used to depict Paul, pulling from a tradition that said his severed head bounced three times, causing three fountains of water to spring forth. 4. A snake symbolizes Paul, harkening back to the time when Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake at Malta and lived (Acts 28:1-6). 5. A phoenix and/or palm tree, refers to Paul always preaching about the Resurrection. 6. Other symbols for Paul include a shield of faith with a Cross in Glory, the armor of God, and a scourge. 7. When the twelve apostles are displayed, sometimes Paul replaces Judas the traitor.
PETER (SIMON PETER) – (died 64 A.D.) – Peter, the brother of Andrew, was a fisherman who was called by Jesus to be His disciple. Peter would be the first to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Peter would eventually deny knowing Jesus, as Jesus had prophesied, and the story of the rooster crowing three times after his denial is well known. After Pentecost, the Holy Spirit would propel Peter to the forefront of the early church, making him one of its main pillars. He, along with the Apostle Paul, are often referred to as the “Princes of the Apostles”. Peter would become the leader of the apostles, and would go on to be called the “first pope” because he was the first overseer of the universal church.
Peter wrote three books of the New Testament: I, II and III Peter. The words of the Gospel of Mark are also attributed to Peter. According to tradition, Peter made his way to Rome where, under Emperor Nero, Peter was martyred. Tradition tells us that Peter, in his humility, refused to be crucified the same way as Jesus. Instead, he was crucified upside down. The site of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome was built on the very spot where Peter was martyred and buried.
When portrayed, Peter is often depicted as a man with short, cropped gray hair and a neatly rounded beard. This depiction of him was solidified by the 4th century. During the Middle Ages, Peter often wore papal garments. When portrayed with the other apostles, Peter is almost always at the head. 1. Two crossed keys refer to the discourse that Jesus had with Peter in Matthew 16:13-19. When Peter, then called Simon, told Jesus that He was the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus commended his faith and changed his name to Peter, or Petros which, in the Greek, means “rock”. He then said, “upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not be able to prevail against it”. Jesus gives Peter the “keys to the kingdom” so that whatever he binds on earth will be bound in Heaven and whatever he looses on earth shall be loosed in Heaven. Sometimes the two crossed keys are gold and silver, which represent heaven and earth. When Peter is portrayed, he is often holding one key in his hand. 2. Peter is symbolized by an inverted cross, representing his martyrdom. Sometimes the keys are shown with the upside down cross. 3. Sometimes the keys are shown with a Papal cross. 4. Another symbol of Peter is the rooster. It reminds us of the time that Peter denied Christ three times and then the rooster crowed (Matthew 26:69-75). 5. Fish and oars symbolize Peter’s original profession of being a fisherman.
PHILIP – (1st century) – He was an apostle of Jesus Christ who is mentioned as taking part in the feeding of the five thousand (John 6:1-14). Little is known about Philip’s life after Pentecost. Tradition tells us that he was a missionary in the regions of Galatia and Phrygia; and, in Phrygia, the apostle was crucified and then stoned to death.
1. To portray Philip, a basket or loaves of bread can be used to symbolize his part in the feeding of the five thousand. A cross can also be added to these symbols. 2. A spear can be used based on accounts that Philip was martyred by a spear. 3. A builder’s square can be used, which alludes to Philip helping to establish (build) churches.
SIMON (THE ZEALOT) – (1st century) – He was an apostle of Jesus Christ. He is also referred to as Simon the Zealot. There could be two reasons for this. Either he was connected with the “Zealots”, a group of Jews who believed in subversive, military revolution against the Roman government; or, he was a “zealot” in the sense that he was very passionate in his work. After Pentecost, little is known about his whereabouts, although tradition says Simon paired up with the Apostle Jude and headed to Persia after a stint in Egypt. Other traditions say he returned to Jerusalem to head up the church there after James the Lesser was martyred.
Simon’s martyrdom is uncertain, although various martyr weapons are shown for his symbol. It is thought that he was either beheaded or cut in two. At least one legend tells of him being crucified.
1. The most popular symbols for Simon are a fish with a book and a fishhook. These symbolize Simon being a great fisher of men. Boat oars are sometimes added to the fish. 2. To portray Simon various images tied to his death are used. Items like the axe, a falchion, or a cross can be used. A saw might also be shown, as it was thought that Simon was cut in two.
STEPHEN – (died 35 A.D.) – Stephen was an appointed deacon in the church and would be Christianity’s first martyr. He was drug outside the city and stoned, with Saul (before his conversion) watching with great interest and satisfaction. 1. Stephen is symbolized by a cloak and stones, symbols of his martyrdom.
THOMAS (1st century) – Thomas, also called Dydimus, was an apostle of Jesus Christ. He was known as “doubting Thomas” because he did not believe Jesus had risen from the dead; though he would eventually have his doubts answered (John 20:24-29). After Pentecost, little is known of Thomas, although several apocryphal works like the Gospel of Thomas bear his name. Tradition tells us that he preached to the Parthians, the Medes, the Perisans, the Hircanians, and the Bactrains. Tradition goes on to tell us that Jesus specifically called Thomas to go to India to build a palace for a certain king there. Thomas obeyed and over the several years it took Thomas to build the palace, he led thousands to Christ, including the King’s wife. The king was furious and tried several times to kill the apostle. None of these attempts succeeded, so, Thomas was commanded to bow to a statue of the god of the sun. Thomas said that it was only an idol and that when he bowed to it, God would destroy it. As Thomas bowed, the steel idol melted like wax. The high priest was furious, so he ran Thomas through with a spear (some accounts say a sword), killing him.
When he is portrayed in human form, Thomas sometimes lacks a beard, which is rather unusual for an apostle. 1. A symbol of Thomas is a spear which represents his martyrdom. Arrows and stones are also used, because some traditions speak of his being martyred in those fashions. 2. A builder’s square is also popular, referring to Thomas’ building the king’s palace.
1. Voragine, Jacobus de, “The Golden Legend, Readings of the Saints, Vol. 1,” (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), p. 18.
2. Ibid., p. 270.
3. Ibid., p. 271.