St. Philip and the Idol of Mars

Cathedral of St. Mark, Venice

In the middle St. Philip holds his fingers as for blessing, as he also does in many Byzantine and eastern-influenced portraits. The gesture here summarizes three commands he makes in the legend: for the Scythians to destroy the idol of Mars, for the dragon to fly away into the desert, and for the three men killed by the dragon's breath to arise. As in the Golden Legend and the Latin vita, the statue had been on a pedestal as shown here. The responses to these commands are labeled above by the inscriptions MARS RU[P]T[US] ("Mars destroyed"), ANGUIS ABIT SCYTIAE ("the dragon leaves Scythia"), and SURGUNT ("they arise").

The smaller figure at Philip's back appears to be a metonymy for the "Scythian nation" of the inscription above, gens scitica credit, "the Scythian nation believes." The verb credit also appears, in the plural, in the Latin vita in the Acta Sanctorum: docente Philippo Apostolo crediderunt ei multa milia hominum, "many thousands of men believed the Apostle Philip's teachings."

Above the saint and the Scythian, the inscription says that Philip then left the Scythians for Hierapolis (in Phrygia), SANCTUS PHILIPPUS REDIENS A SCITIS HIERAPOLIM. On the right the saint is being laid to rest in that city. The Golden Legend follows the Latin vita and Isidore in saying he was crucified there, but the Early South English Legendary has him die "in peace" in his bed. The latter may be suggested here by the phrase IN PACE QUIEVIT, "he rests in peace," above the scene of his interment. In the background of that scene is a structure suggesting a small house, as if the body had been taken from it. Or the structure could simply represent Hierapolis the city. At any rate, there is no suggestion of a cross.

St. Philip's face is like those in Byzantine and eastern-influenced images: rather long, beardless, and with a slightly divided forelock. The Scythians all wear Phrygian caps, a way of designating people from the East.

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Photographed at the site by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.