Icon Symbolism

Icon Symbolism: Images of Saints

Since apostolic times, the sacred tradition of icon painting has been an essential part of Christian religious life. Although the modern style of iconography has undergone certain changes, the significance and value of icons have remained intact. The icon symbolism inspires and astounds all believers with its profoundness. Let’s take a closer look at the most famous symbols that one can recognize in religious icons of saints.

General features of saint iconography

The technique of painting icons of saints is a sacred process that is traditionally supported by sincere prayer. Each element of an icon has its meaning and canons of representation. The main characteristics of saint iconography are the non-naturalistic manner of painting and stylization. The vestments of the saints are mostly depicted using geometric shapes such as ovals, triangles, and rectangles. The color palette is fixed: blue for the outer garments, red for the tunics, etc. The facial features of the saints are also stylized. They do not look like real people. The contours of their faces are always clear and straight, and the halos around their heads are properly shaped.

All of the above features make the iconography of the saints extremely symbolic. Its purpose is to show the divine nature of the saint and the heavenly order through the proper illustration of each element we see in the icon. 

Icon symbolism: images of saints

The icon symbolism is quite abundant and profound. Below we have outlined the meanings of the most famous symbols of the saints.

  • Cross

The cross is usually an attribute of the holy martyr. It symbolizes the sacrifice of life for humanity. A famous Christian martyr is Saint Philomena, whose icons are highly revered throughout the world.

  • Gospel Book

The Gospel is often an attribute of holy bishops, as it is with this book that they preach and bless the faithful. The Gospel is an instrument of salvation for the saints by God.

  • Scroll

The scroll is a symbol of divine wisdom, which is why it is often depicted in the icons of the Old Testament prophets and Apostles. They were chosen by God to impart His wisdom to mankind. Often, the scrolls contain quotations from the books of a particular saint.

  • Weapons

Spears, arrows, shields, and swords are often depicted in the hands of the saints. These weapons symbolize the struggle against the forces of evil.

As you can see, the icon symbolism is indeed very diverse and canonical, and it is also very meaningful. Stay with us to learn more about the unique art of icon painting!