Saint Gall: The Iconography

In Arbon, Germany [actually just inside Switzerland], St. Gall, Abbot. He was a disciple of blessed Columban. – Roman Martyrology for October 16

An earlier version of St. Gall's Vita was improved and expanded in the 9th century by Walafrid Strabo, a monk of the abbey of St. Gall, Switzerland.

According to Strabo, Gall came from Ireland with St. Columba and settled eventually on the shores of Lake Zurich, where they preached and gained a number of converts. This enraged the adherents of the old religion, who drove them out – Columba to Bobbio in Italy and Gall to the place that now bears his name.

On this next part of his journey Gall was accompanied by a deacon named Hiltibod. One night while Hiltibod was sleeping Gall arose and started praying at a cross he had set up and from which he had hung a satchel of relics. A bear came by, attracted by the remains of the two men's supper. Gall said to the bear, "In the name of the Lord, I command you to take up a log and throw it on the fire." When the bear obliged, Gall gave him a loaf of bread, saying, "In the name of my Lord Jesus Christ, depart from this valley; you are free to range the hills and mountains around at will so long as you do no harm to man or beast in this spot." Because of this episode, artists have always used the bear as St. Gall's attribute.

Another attribute is the long cross or crozier in the saint's right hand. The crozier reflects Gall's listing as an abbot in the Roman Martyrology (October, p. 19). A small number of men were attracted to his hermitage by his sanctity and his teachings, and that group did develop into the Abbey of St. Gall, but in his lifetime the saint refused a real abbacy in Bobbio and also a bishopric offered by a local duke.

A number of miracles attended his death, including the cure of a crippled beggar who was given the saint's shoes and leggings. As soon as he put them on he was able to walk with ease.

Prepared in 2013 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University

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St. Gall with his long cross and bear, Church of the Visitation, Meersburg, Germany (see this image in full resolution)

St. Gall preaching on the shores of Lake Zurich (See the description page)

St. Gall, the deacon and the bear (See the description page)

The death of St. Gall, with the crippled beggar on the left (See the description page)

DATES

  • Feast day: October 16
  • Lived circa 550-646

HAGIOGRAPHY

  • Walafrid Strabo's Life of St. Gall, translated in Stouck, 223-49.
  • Acta Sanctorum, October vol. 7, 856-909.