Saint Eustace: The Iconography

In Rome the passion Passion: The suffering and death of a Christian martyr, or a text relating that suffering and death. of the holy martyrs Eustace and Theopistis his wife, with their two sons Agapitus and Theopistus. Under the Emperor Hadrian they were condemned to the beasts but God saw that they were not harmed. Then they were locked into a burning-hot brass bull and achieved martyrdom. – Roman Martyrology for September 20

The Golden Legend says Eustace was a pagan cavalry officer to whom Christ appeared in the form of a deer with a crucifix between its antlers, as in the second picture at right. This led to his conversion. After a long series of misfortunes he re-entered the military and won an important battle for the Emperor Hadrian. But when Hadrian ordered a feast to honor him Eustace refused to sacrifice to the gods. Angered, the emperor ordered that he and his family be imprisoned with a lion. When the lion bowed to the family and did them no harm, Hadrian had them placed in a brass bull with a fire set beneath it, as seen in the third picture at right.
The deer and cross atop the Church of Sant'Eustachio in Rome (Photo by the author)
The deer and cru­ci­fix appear as St. Eu­stace's em­blem in por­traits such as the one at right and on the roof­top of his church in Rome, which also has a large paint­ing of St. Eu­stace's mar­tyr­dom.

In the 15th century Eustace was one of the 14 Holy Helpers of popular devotion.

Prepared in 2014 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University, revised 2015-11-02.


Detail from Albrecht Dürer's Paumgartner Altarpiece (See the description page)

Pisanello, The Vision of St. Eustace (See the description page)

Francesco Ferdinandi, The Martyrdom of St. Eustace (See the description page)


  • Deer with a cross in its antlers


  • Lived in the 2nd century
  • In 1969 the Roman Catholic Church suppressed his September 20 feast.



  • In Latin, "Eustachius," whence the French "Eustache"
  • In Venetian, "San Stae," the name of one of the city's most elegant churches.