Saint Anastasia: The Iconography
APRIL 15, DECEMBER 25
Medieval lives of St. Anastasia, including the one in the Golden Legend, conflate elements from the stories of two different saints of the same name and same century. One is Anastasia of Sirmium, who was burned at the stake. The other is Anastasia of Rome, a disciple of St. Chrysogonus who was crucified and then beheaded. The conflated Anastasia in the Golden Legend and the Roman Martyrology is a Roman noblewoman who was both "tied to poles" and then burned at the stake, apparently an attempt to reconcile the different deaths in the two stories.

In Orthodox icons, the saint holds a cross in her right hand and sometimes a small vase in her left, as at right. We also see the cross in the stone relief at right, originally from the Cathedral of St. Anastasia in Zadar, Croatia. In other western images she sometimes holds a flame in her hand, either in a bowl (example) or directly on the palm of the hand, as in two sculptures in the Benedictine convent in Zadar, Croatia.1 The flame refers to Anastasia of Sirmium's death by fire. The cross may refer to the Roman saint's crucifixion, or it may be just iconographic boilerplate.

The Anastasia of the Golden Legend had been forced into a marriage that she would not consummate. Nevertheless, the second picture at right dresses her as a matron, in veil and wimple, rather than bare-headed like a virgin, as does this relief in the tympanum of the cathedral's west portal. She is similarly dressed in a 14th-century Book of Hours (third picture at right) and in a late 13th century French illumination Later images in the convent collection have her bare-headed with a book and palm branch.2

There is also a St. Anastasia the Patrician, a Byzantine lady-in-waiting of the 6th century who fled the court to live as a hermit in the desert. See Brock and Harvey.

Prepared in 2014 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University, revised 2015-07-26.

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Icon of St. Anastasia, 14th century (See the description page.)


Relief in the Convent of St. Mary, Zadar, Croatia (See the description page.)


St. Anastasia with a book and palm branch in a 13th-century Book of Hours (See description page)

DATES

  • Both saints died in the 3rd century.

  • Feast days:
    • Anastasia of Rome: April 15
    • Anastasia of Sirmium: December 25
    • Anastasia the Patrician: March 10

HAGIOGRAPHY

NOTES

1 A photograph of one of the sculptures, from the 18th century, is in Petricioli, 128.

2 See Petricioli, 82 and 114. The statue with the flame on p. 128 is also bare-headed, with the hair done in an 18th-century style.