Saint Philip the Apostle: The Iconography

The natal day Not their birthday but the day they were martyred and "born again" into Heaven of blessed Philip and James, Apostles. Philip converted almost all of Scythia to the faith of Christ, but then in Hierapolis, Asia, he was crucified, stoned, and died gloriously.… – Roman Martyrology for May 11

St. Philip's attributes are a cross and/or a dragon, as in the first photo at right.

NARRATIVE IMAGES

The saint figures importantly in chapter 8 of the Acts of the Apostles, first preaching successfully in Samaria and then teaching and baptizing a visiting official of the Ethiopian court. So far, I have seen no images of his preaching and only one of the Ethiopian's baptism.

All the other narrative images focus on the two parts of the legendary material. The left side of the picture above follows the first part: In Scythia the saint is commanded to worship an idol of Mars. At the base of the idol's pedestal sits a dragon whose evil breath has killed many Scythians and sickened others. Philip tells the Scythians if they will destroy the idol he can make the dragon go away and revive the men it has killed. They pull down the idol, and Philip is able to save the city, whereupon thousands of Scythians listen to his sermons and are converted.

In the second part of the legend, Philip finishes his earthly life in Hierapolis, Phrygia. A goodly number of medieval texts refer to his death with phrasing similar to that in the mosaic above: IN PACE QUEVIT, which can mean either "he rests in peace" or "he went to his rest in peace." The Early South English Legendary assumes the latter meaning: "In peace he died in his bed: as the book us hath told." But most medieval writers assert that he was crucified. One of the vitae presented in the Acta Sanctorum's article on Philip adds that he was fastened to the cross with crosswise cords; another adds that he was stoned while on the cross.1 Following this tradition, most images of the saint's death have him tied to a cross (example) and some add the stoning (example).

PORTRAITS

Western portraits of St. Philip usually have him holding a tall cross, and they often also include the dragon, as in the first picture at right. He may be portrayed as a man in middle or advanced age (example), but sometimes in the West and consistently in the East he is a beardless youth with a somewhat long face and a tousled or bifurcated forelock, holding a scroll in his left hand while he blesses the viewer with his right, as in the two pictures at right. Even the narrative image at the top of this page presents a young and beardless Philip with a bifurcated forelock holding a scroll and forming his right hand into a blessing gesture.

Prepared in 2015 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University. Revised 2018-03-30.

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SHOWN ABOVE

St. Philip and the Idol of Mars, in St. Mark's Cathedral, Venice. See the description page for a full explanation.

OTHER IMAGES

Mazzuoli, St. Philip, 1795-11 – See description page

10th-century Byzantine portrait – See description page

Detail of the St. Mark's St. Philip and the Idol of Mars: Philip's face (13th century)

MORE IMAGES

  • Already in : a 12th century carved column Philip is pictured with his long cross.
  • 12th century: Byzantine-style mosaic in Monreale Cathedral, Sicily.
  • 13th century (est.): The Apostles Window in Regensburg Cathedral, picturing the martyrdom of each Apostle.
  • 18th century: Statue in St. Peter's Church, Munich
  • Undated: Painting in an Austrian church.

DATES

  • Feast day: May 1 originally and among Lutherans and Anglicans; for Catholics the date was moved to May 11 in 1955 and then to May 3 in 1969.

HAGIOGRAPHY

NOTE

1 ESEL, 364 (my translation). Acta Sanctorum, May vol. 1: 10, 12, 14.