Saint Basil the Great: The Iconography

In Caesarea, Cappadocia, the death of St. Basil the Great, Bishop, Confessor, and Doctor of the Church. During the reign of the Emperor Valens he was a shining example of wisdom, of erudition, and of every virtue. He defended the Church against the Arians and Macedonians with indefatigable constancy. However, his feast day is best celebrated on June 24, the day he was ordained a bishop. – Roman Martyrology for January 1

St. Basil was a leader of the "Catholic" Christians in their struggle against the Arians, who held that the Son of God was inferior to the Father.1 The first picture at right represents an episode from Basil's vita. The Emperor Valens, who favored the Arians, visited a Catholic Mass being celebrated by St. Basil on the day of Epiphany. Deeply moved by the devotion of the bishop and his people, who seemed like angels, he fell into a faint. After the Mass Basil took him into the presbytery and explained Catholic theology to him. In consequence Valens desisted from his persecution of the Catholics.2

In Orthodox images like the second picture at right St. Basil will be dressed as a bishop and have a long, tapering black beard. Western images usually dress him as a bishop but are otherwise inconsistent in iconography; sometimes they give him a forked beard.

Prepared in 2014 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University. Revised 2015-09-14, 2017-03-04.


Subleyras, St. Basil Celebrating Mass Before the Emperor Valens, 1745 (See the description page)

Detail from the apse at Cefalù Cathedral, Sicily, 12th century (See the description page)


  • Feast days: June 14 (Roman Catholid, 13th century until 1969), January 1 (current Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches)
  • Born in 329 or 330
  • Died in 379


  • Also known as St. Basil of Caesarea


1 The "Macedonians" mentioned in the Roman Martyrology were also known as "Semi-Arians." They denied the godhood of the Holy Ghost. See the Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. Pneumatomachi.

2 Acta Sanctorum, June vol. 2, 876-77.