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Why is St. Jerome depicted with a lion?


Luca Aless - CC BY-SA 4.0

Philip Kosloski - published on 09/30/22

A legend recounts how St. Jerome helped a lion whose paw was injured.

While St. Jerome is best known for his work on the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible, he is often depicted in art with a lion.

Why is that?

The lion is not meant to be a symbolic figure, but represents a legendary account of his life.

The Golden Legend offers a brief summary of how St. Jerome became associated with a lion.

One day toward evening, when he was seated with the brethren to hear the sacred lessons read, a lion suddenly limped into the monastery. The other monks fled at the sight of the beast, but Jerome greeted him as a guest. The lion showed him his wounded foot, and Jerome called the brothers and ordered them to wash the animal’s feet and to dress the wound carefully. When they set about doing this, they found that the paw had been scratched and torn by thorns. They did what was necessary, and the lion recovered, lost all his wildness, and lived among the monks like a house pet.

It is difficult to ascertain the truth of the story, as many miraculous stories are told about saints and their interactions with animals.

The main focus of the story is how St. Jerome calmly received the lion, not running away, willing to help an animal in need. In return for Jerome’s charity, the lion became a “pet” and stayed with the monks.

The story is a reminder not to judge a book by its cover, and to receive all guests with hospitality, looking past their frightening appearances.

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