St. Bernardino of Siena: The Iconography

In Aquila, St. Bernardino of Siena, Confessor, of the Order of [Friars] Minor, who illuminated Italy by his words and example. — Roman Martyrology for May 20

St. Bernardino was a popular Franciscan preacher in 15th-century Italy. Among other things, he preached devotion to the name of Jesus and would display it in the form of a monogram set in a shining sun.1 The monogram was based on "IHC," the first three letters of Jesus' name in Greek, although in the monogram the third letter is always rendered "S."

The first picture at right is one of a number of images of St. Bernardino painted by Sano di Pietro. The first of them was done in the year following the saint's death in 1444, but because of the halo this one was most likely painted at some time after his canonization in 1450. All the early images, by Sano and others, were created by and/or for people who knew him in life, and they are therefore considered to be veristic representations of his appearance: Franciscan habit, sunken cheeks, a fringe of hair around a bald pate, and a long, thin nose. Later images usually tend to reproduce those features.2

Some of the early works have him holding a plaque with the "IHS" monogram in a sun; in others, he holds up the monogram with his right hand. In later works the monogram may be at the top of a staff, as in the second picture at right.

At various times the saint was offered the office of bishop in Siena, Urbino, and Ferrara, but he refused in order to continue his missionary work throughout Italy.3 This refusal is sometimes referenced by three mitres being placed at his feet, as in the second and third pictures at right.

Prepared in 2015 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University. Revised 2017-01-31, 2020-06-21.


Sano di Pietro, St. Bernardino, 15th century (See the description page)

El Greco, St. Bernardino, 1603-1604 (See the description page)

Statue of St. Bernardino with the tablet and the three mitres, St. Anthony Chapel, Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna (See the description page)


  • Sunburst monogram with the letters "IHS," usually on a tablet
  • Bishops' mitres at his feet


  • 1475: Benvenuto di Giovanni, San Bernardino.
  • 1783-85: Statue in Barcelona Cathedral.
  • Undated: St. Bernardino and St. Francis of Assisi are included in the background of an image of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
  • Undated: Statue of St. Bernardino in San Juan Capistrano, California.


  • Feast day: May 20
  • Lived 1380-1444


  • Also known as St. Bernardine, or in Spanish as San Bernadino (whence the name of the city in California)



1 Butler II, 355.

2 Israëls, 82-83.

3 Butler, ibid.