Palm branch or lily

If the saint is holding a palm branch, she's a martyr. The palm was, for the Romans, a symbol of victory. This meaning was carried into Christian symbolism, to suggest the martyr’s triumph over death. If the saint is carrying a lily instead or as well, shes a virgin. This saint, Lucy, holds the palm of martyrdom and her eyes -- removed as part of her martyrdom -- in the other hand.

Inverted crucifixion

If the saint is crucified upside-down, it’s Peter. According to tradition (Eusebius included), when Peter was about to be martyred, he said he was not worthy of dying like Christ, so the Romans decided to crucify him with his head downwards.

A wolf companion

If the saint is accompanied by a wolf, it’s Francis of Assisi. The image is based on an episode of Francis’ life: According to the Flowers of St. Francis, a wolf terrorized the Umbrian city of Gubbio until it was tamed by the saint.

A stag with a cross

If the saint kneeling in front of a deer (and if the deer looks like straight out of the label of a Jägermeister bottle, with a shining cross between its antlers) it’s St. Hubert, patron saint of hunters.

A dog

A saint in back and white accompanied by a dog is St. Dominic, from a play on the name of the Dominican order he founded, which in Latin can be read as "the dogs of God." But if the dog is licking the saint’s wounds, it’s St. Roch, who became a healer after his own wound was healed by his dog.


If the saint is carrying a cup from which a snake slithers out, it’s St. John the Evangelist. But if the saint is carrying a broken cup, that’s St. Benedict of Nursia. Both saints, tradition claims, were about to be poisoned and were miraculously saved.

A tower

If the saint is standing next to a tower, that’s St. Barbara. Hagiography claims her father locked her up in a tower to preserve her from the outside world as he discovered she had become a Christian. The tower is usually shown with three windows in honor of the Trinity.


If the saint is holding a book, we are in trouble. Plenty of saints carry books in Christian iconography. Whenever this is the case, we need to look at the other attributes. For instance, if the saint is carrying a book (or a scroll) and a sword, that’s St. Paul. If he’s carrying a book and a church instead, that’s Thomas Aquinas.

Carmelite habit

If the saint is writing while looking away as if in contemplative ecstasy, and is dressed in a brown habit, that’s St. Teresa of Avila. If she’s dressed in the very same habit but carrying a rose, that’s St. Therese of Lisieux. A man wearing the Carmelite habit and receiving the brown scapular from Our Lady is St. Simon Stock. A bearded man in a Carmelite habit praying before a crucifix is St. John of the Cross.
If the saint is holding a broom, and dressed in a Dominican habit, that’s the Peruvian Saint Martin de Porres. The son of a Spanish nobleman and a former slave, he was a lay brother in the Dominican Order.