Saint Monica: The Iconography

In Ostia Tiberina, St. Monica, the mother of blessed Augustine. He left a testament to her splendid life in the ninth book of the Confessions. Roman Martyrology for May 4

Saint Monica is the mother of St. Augustine. During his years of licentious living and adherence to Manicheism, she continued to pray for his conversion, and also for her violent and unfaithful husband Patricius. At one point an angel appeared to her in a dream to promise Augustine's eventual conversion (image). In fact Patricius did convert a year before his death in 371, and Augustine was baptized in 387 by St. Ambrose. Not long afterward, as Augustine and Monica were preparing to sail from Ostia to their home in North Africa, she fell sick and died. In the 15th century the Augustinian order began to promote her cult, translating her remains from Ostia to their church in Rome and commissioning images like those referenced on this page.1

St. Monica is usually shown in widow's weeds, as in the two pictures at right, which are details from narrative images relating to Augustine's life. She may also be found in group portraits with Augustine and sometimes St. Nicholas of Tolentino (example).

Image cycles on the life of St. Monica include Antonio Vivarini's for an Augustinian church in Venice in 1441. This painting of the betrothal to Patricius is part of the Vivarini cycle.

Prepared in 2014 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University. Revised 2017-01-23.

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Detail from the Cloisters' Saint Augustine Altarpiece (1490): St. Monica attends a sermon of St. Augustine. (See description page)


Monica (in the background) at her son's baptism: detail from Gozzoli's Baptism of St. Augustine (See description page)

MORE IMAGES

  • Late 16th century (estimate): Madonna and Child with SS. Sebastian, Roch, and Monica.

DATES

  • In 1969 the Roman Catholic Church moved their observance of St. Monica's feast day from May 4 to August 27.

HAGIOGRAPHY

ALSO SEE

NOTES

1 Augustine, Confessions, IX, 8-12. Butler II, 228.