Thursday, October 22, 2009

Saints and Symbols of Writing

No, we're not talking symbols in writing. We're talking symbols of writing. On Tuesday, Heather talked about the gods and goddesses associated with writing. I'm going to take a slightly different tack.

The patron saint of writers is St. Francis de Sales. Living in France in the 16th century, his ministry focused on making catholic teachings clear through writing. By all accounts a kindly and patient man, he died of natural causes in Lyon in 1602.

I like this idea of someone so steady and calm being named (in 1923) the patron saint of writers. So often one gets the impression in western culture that writers are neurotic, depressive, alcoholic, etc. etc. I expect writers have incidences of these afflictions at about the same rate as the general population, but there's this "romantic" myth that you have to be very wrong in the head and socially inept to be a writer, which I submit is complete BS and does writers more harm than good.

But I digress.

Hall's excellent review of symbols in visual art* gives us a run down of the symbols and people most associated with writing in western art. Pen, inkhorn, and sometimes a book are attributes of the four evangelists, as well as Doctors of the Church, including Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Thomas Aquinas.

The evangelists are often represented with books or in the act of writing – particularly Matthew, an angel dictating his words – St. Bridget of Sweden is also shown in this way. Gregory the Great and St. Teresa receive dictation from a dove, and St. Jerome sits in his study, working away with a lion at his feet.

What other symbols of writing and authors in art can you think of? Examples?

Photo: Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada

* James Hall, Dictionary of Subjects & Symbols in Art, 1974


  1. I was always fond of the Sybils on the Sistine ceiling. I know they're prophets, not writers, but I like the images of women holding books filled with their own words.

  2. Oooh, that's a good one!

  3. I'm rather pathetic on this subject, but like you, have a hard time accomplishing work when those Niners are playing. Sort of the anti-writing saints are they.

    However, as long as they WIN, I will not be unhappy... :)))