Saint Bavo: The Iconography
In medieval Europe, "conversion" did not mean coming into the Christian faith. It meant leaving the vanities of this world to embrace the monastic life. St. Bavo served as a good model for such a conversion. The story is that he was a particularly wicked lay aristocrat from Brabant who abused his family and servants, but who repented after hearing a sermon by St. Amand. At first St. Bavo accompanied his new mentor in itinerant preaching, but eventually he became a hermit in a forest near Ghent.

The few pre-modern images I have turned up show St. Bavo as he was either before or in the process of his conversion. At right, for example, we see him dressed as a 15th century aristocrat. In the Bosch painting below it, he is giving away his wealth to the poor but still in his expensive clothes and still carrying on his wrist the falcon that serves as his attribute.

Prepared in 2014 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University, revised 2015-09-15.


Statue of St. Bavo from the Netherlands, circa 1460 (See the description page)

Bosch, St. Bavo, 1490 (See the description page)


  • Lived 589 to circa 654