Saints Justina and Prosdocimus of Padua
The Iconography

In Padua St. Justina, Virgin and Martyr. She was baptized by blessed Prosdocimus, a disciple of St. Peter. Because she persisted with constancy in the faith of Christ, the Prefect Maximus ordered her stabbed with a gladius A short sword, as in the picture at right and she went on to the Lord. Roman Martyrology for October 7

In Padua the burial of St. Prosdocimus, who was the first bishop of that city. Blessed Peter the Apostle ordained him bishop and sent him to Padua to preach the word of God. He went to his rest there, splendid for his many virtues and mighty deeds. Roman Martyrology for November 7

According to the legend published in the Acta Sanctorum, St. Peter commissioned St. Prosdocimus to preach in Padua. One of his converts there was St. Justina. His attribute is the ewer he used to baptize her (example). Later, she was arrested at a marble bridge near Padua, tried before the Emperor in the city's "Field of Mars," and put to the sword for refusing to worship that god. Her attribute is the gladius or short sword that was plunged into her breast.

In the Christian era the Field of Mars became the Prato del Valle, with the Abbey of St. Justina rising at its edge.

The saint was well known in late antiquity. In the 6th century the Paduans dedicated a church to her and she is portrayed among the virgin martyrs in the presbytery arch in the Euphrasian Basilica and in the procession of virgins in Sant'Apollinare Nuovo. In the 7th century, Venantius Fortunatus, writing in Gaul, urged travelers to Padua to visit her relics there.1

In the Middle Ages, she continued to be a favorite subject of portraits and narrative images in Padua and the rest of northern Italy. In the Abbey her martyrdom is the subject of the stunning 1576 painting over the high altar (third picture at right) and the 21st-century reliefs on the main door:

Click or press to see the description page for this picture

At times the images seem to confuse this St. Justina with the Justina who was martyred in the third century in Antioch (example).

Prepared in 2017 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University. Revised 2020-07-21.

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St. Justina's portrait in Mantegna's San Luca Altarpiece. (See the description page.)


Center section of Veronese's 1573 Martyrdom of St. Justina. The marble bridge is in the background. (See the description page.)


Another Veronese on the same subject, from 1576. Behind the saint and her executioners is the ground where her church will be built, and behind that the artist has painted the contemporary Basilica of St. Anthony. (See the description page.)

MORE IMAGES

  • 14th century: A panel in a stained-glass window in Regensburg Cathedral.
  • Circa 1530: Moretto's St. Justina and the Unicorn
  • Late 16th century: This painting celebrates the Holy League's victory at Lepanto by picturing St. Justina with her foot on the vanquished Turk.

DATES

  • Feast day: October 7

BIOGRAPHY

  • Acta Sanctorum, October vol. 3, 790-826.
  • Prudentius, Peristephanon, Carmen XIII (Passio Cypriani).
  • Carolus de Smedt, Josephus de Backer, Franciscus van Ortroy, Josephus van den Gheyn, edd., "Passio S. Iustinae, Virginis et Martyris, Patavii in Italia," Analecta Bollandiana, X, 467-488.

ALSO SEE

NOTES

1 Butler, IV, 450.

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