Saint Euphemia: The Iconography
According to the Golden Legend Euphemia was a woman of senatorial rank who died for her faith in Chalcedon in 280 during the reign of Diocletian. That reign, however, began only in 285. At some time during the persecutions of that era she brought her Christian faith to the attention of the judge Priscus, who ordered several attempts to put her to death (by fire, then by the sword, then pressed under great stones, then exposed to "cruel beasts"). Finally a guard1 ran her through with a sword.

In a much earlier version by John the Stylite the beasts that finished Euphemia off were specifically lions. Four of them were loosed upon her in a "stadium." But the lions merely "kissed the foot-prints of the blessed one" and dispatched her with a mere bite on the shoulder. This is what we see in the second picture at right.


St. Euphemia appears in many early mosaics with other virgin martyrs, dressed as a noblewoman and without attributes (Archbishop's Chapel, Ravenna, Ravenna's Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Poreč, Croatia). In this 18th-century fresco she has a book and the palm branch that signifies martyrdom.


So far, the only narrative images I have found are the two pictures at right, 19th-century frescoes in the Basilica of St. Euphemia in Rovinj, Croatia. Euphemia's relics are preserved in the basilica there.2 One fresco has the arrival of the sarcophagus in Rovinj; the other gives a very confused rendering of the martyrdom.

Prepared in 2014 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University. Revised 2015-11-01, 2016-12-28.


Oxen bring Euphemia's sarcophagus to Rovinj, Croatia (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

The martyrdom of St. Euphemia (Source: Wikimedia Commons)




1 Praeses in Graesse (618), "headman" in Ryan (II, 183), "butcher" in Caxton.

2 "Church of St. Euphemia."