Saint Simeon, Prophet of Jerusalem: The Iconography
FEBRUARY 3
Simeon is the old man who was in the Temple when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus there for the rites prescribed for the child's 40th day. He is sometimes seen in portraits such as the one at right, but more often in narrative images of the Presentation in the Temple. In some portraits he will bear a scroll with the words Nunc dimittis servum, the opening phrase in Latin of the prayer he spoke after holding the child in his arms: "Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace; Because my eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel" (Luke 2:29-32).

The reference to light in that prayer gave rise to the practice of bringing candles to the church on the 40th day after Christmas, which became known as "Candlemas."
Paris Nogari, The Presentation in the Temple, 16th century. Congregants bring candles to the rite, an allusion to the later practice in Christian churches on February 2. (Follow this link for the description page. Photograph by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.)
Another remark of Simeon's, telling Mary that "thy own soul a sword shall pierce," gave rise to the iconography of Our Lady of Sorrows, an image in which Mary's heart is pierced by one or seven swords.
Our Lady of Sorrows in an outdoor shrine in Taufers, Italy (Follow this link for the description page. Photograph by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.)

Prepared in 2016 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University

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Detail from a 1449 polyptych by Antonio Vivarini (See the description page)

DATES

  • Candlemas is February 2, the 40th day after Chrismas. Simeon's feast is the next day, February 3.

HAGIOGRAPHY

NAMES

  • Not to be confused with the "St. Simeon of Jerusalem" who became the second bishop of Jerusalem in the mid-1st century. His feast is February 18 in the West and April 27 in the East.

ALSO SEE


Statue of Simeon holding a naked child Jesus. See the description page.