Saints Acisclus and Victoria: The Iconography

In Cordoba, Spain, the holy martyrs Acisclus and Victoria, who were brother and sister. During the persecution of Diocletian and on the orders of the Prefect Dio, they were most savagely tortured and by their noble suffering merited the crown of martyrdom. – Roman Martyrology for November 17

During the persecution of Diocletian in the early 4th century, according to their legend, the governor of Cordoba had Acisclus and his sister Victoria tortured and then killed for professing the Christian faith and denouncing the Roman gods. Acisclus was beheaded and Victoria died from arrows shot into her chest and side.

During the tortures the governor is said to have told Acisclus "to think about the beauty of your youth, lest you perish." Accordingly, the two are usually pictured as beautiful young persons holding the palm branches that signify their status as martyrs. Often they also hold the instruments of their martyrdom, a sword for Acisclus and an arrow for Victoria.

These saints have been venerated in Cordoba since at least the 5th century. Butler's Lives of the Saints and several web sites say that the two are mentioned in St. Eulogius's 8th-century Memorialis Sanctorum, though my search through that book did not find them. Enrique Florez's 18th-century Espa­ña Sa­gra­da, vol. 10, prints the medieval story of their martyrdom and adds that according to several early martyrologies roses bloom miraculously on their feast day "in praise of the precious deaths of these saints" (p. 294). Some sites on the web say images of these saints are portrayed with crowns of roses as attributes. This would consist with the rose miracles, but I have not yet found any such images.

Many of the tortures undergone in their story are shared with more famous figures. Like the three young men in Daniel 3 they are cast into a fiery furnace where an angel protects them. Like St. Agatha, Victoria suffers the removal of her breasts. And as in many early martyrs' tales repeated attempts to kill the saints lead only to opportunities for them to reassert the power of God and the impotence of the idols they have been urged to worship.

Prepared in 2014 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University, revised 2015-09-16 and 2020-12-07.

HOME PAGE


Standing with the Madonna and Child, the saints hold their attributes, a sword for Acisclus and an arrow for Victoria. (See the description page.)


Bust of St. Acisclus with a jagged red line to reference his beheading. (See the description page.)

ATTRIBUTES

  • For St. Acisclus, a sword and a palm branch.
  • For St. Victoria, an arrow and a palm branch

BIOGRAPHY

DATES

  • Feast day: November 17.
  • Died during the persecution of 303-313.

HOME PAGE