Saint John the Almsgiver: The Iconography

In Alexandria, St. John the Almsgiver, bishop of that city, celebrated for his mercy to the poor. Roman Martyrology for January 23

This saint was Patriarch of Alexandria in the 7th century. As his title implies, he insisted on putting the needs of the poor, whom he called his "masters," above all else. He not only saw to it that they received as much financial support as he could squeeze out of the church but that they be free from the onerous taxation that was often their lot. Clerical corruption was also a concern of his, and he set against it his own example of austere living.

In the first picture at right the saint sits and distributes alms while sitting with a book in the open air. This is based on his vita's statement that "every Wednesday and Friday he had a seat and two stools placed in the open in front of the church and there he sat in company with a few virtuous men, or with the gospel in his hands." Most of his images show him giving alms, and they usually give him a white beard of serious proportions. He sometimes carries a staff with a "tau" top, as in the second picture at right.

Prepared in 2017 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University

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Titian's portrait of St. John the Almsgiver (See the description page)


A panel from a Polish polyptych with scene's from this saint's life (See the description page)


A statue of the saint in his church, San Giovanni Eleemosynario in Venice (See the description page)

DATES

  • November 11 is the anniversary of his death and is celebrated in the East as his feast day.
  • January 23 is the anniversary of the translation of his relics to Bratislava in

NAMES

  • In Italian, San Giovanni Eleemosynario

HAGIOGRAPHY

  • Leontius, The Life of St. John the Almsgiver: English translation in Dawes, Latin in the Acta Sanctorum, January vol. 2, 498-517.
  • Butler I, 153-155.