Saint Justina of Padua: The Iconography

In Padua St. Justina, Virgin and Martyr. She was baptized by blessed Prosdocimus, a disciple of St. Peter. Because she persisted with constancy in the faith of Christ, the Prefect Maximus ordered her stabbed with a gladius A short sword, as in the picture at right and she went on to the Lord. Roman Martyrology for October 7

According to the legend published in the Acta Sanctorum, Justina had been converted to the faith by St. Prosdocimus, whom St. Peter has commissioned to preach to the Paduans. She was arrested at a marble bridge near Padua, tried before the Emperor in the city's "Field of Mars," and put to the sword for refusing to worship that god. In the Christian era the Field of Mars became the Prato del Valle, with the Abbey of St. Justina rising at its edge.

The saint was well known in late antiquity. In the 6th century the Paduans dedicated a church to her and she is portrayed among the virgin martyrs in the presbytery arch in the Euphrasian Basilica and in the procession of virgins in Sant'Apollinare Nuovo. In the 7th century, Venantius Fortunatus, writing in Gaul, urged travelers to Padua to visit her relics there.1

In the Middle Ages, she continued to be a favorite subject of portraits and narrative images in Padua and the rest of northern Italy. In the Abbey her martyrdom is the subject of the stunning 1576 painting over the high altar in (second picture at right) and the 21st-century reliefs on the main door (below).
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PORTRAITS

In portraits, this saint's attribute is the gladius (short sword) with which she was killed, either plunged in her side (third picture at right) or in her hand, as in this image commemorating the Christian victory at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571:
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In the image, a monster symbolizing the Ottoman forces lies beneath the feet of St. Justina and SS. Sergius and Bacchus. The three are pictured because their feasts coincide with the day of the battle, October 7.

At times the images seem to confuse this saint with the Justina who was martyred in the third century in Antioch (example).

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

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Center section of Veronese's 1573 Martyrdom of St. Justina. The marble bridge is in the background. (See the description page.)


Another Veronese on the same subject, from 1576. Behind the saint and her executioners is the ground where her church will be built, and behind that the artist has painted the contemporary Basilica of St. Anthony. (See the description page.)


Andrea Mantegna's portrait, 1453 (See description page)

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DATES

  • Feast day: October 7

HAGIOGRAPHY

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NOTES

1 Butler, IV, 450.