Saint Sabas: The Iconography

In Judea, St. Sabbas the Abbot. He was born in the town of Mutala in Cappadocia and was renowned for his exemplary sanctity. He labored for the catholic faith against those who opposed the holy Synod of Chalcedon. He went to rest in peace in the monastery in the diocese of Jerusalem that was later named after him. – Roman Martyrology for December 5

St. Sabas founded a monastery near Jerusalem and was its abbot (Butler, 494-97). In portraits he wears a black hood and has a long, white, bifurcated beard. The length and color of the beard may allude to his name, which means "old man" in Aramaic.

His left hand holds a book in the first of the images at right and a scroll in the second. These may refer to his authorship of a monastic rule for church services called the Jerusalem Typikon.1

Several episodes in this saint's legend concern access to water in his desert home. In one, needing water for the men who have come to seek his guidance, he sees a wild ass pawing and nosing at the ground. He has a pit dug at that spot, and a spring flows forth.2
The wild ass helps St. Sabas find water for his fellow monks.

Prepared in 2015 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University. Revised 2021-11-19.


Detail from an altarpiece by Paolo Veneziano, 14th century (See description page)

Icon with SS. Stephen and Simeon (See description page)

Narrative image: Having prayed for water for his monastery, the saint sees a wild ass pawing the ground. Digging there, he finds a spring. (See Butler, IV, 495.)


  • Feast day: December 5
  • Died 532


  • His name is often rendered as "Saba" or "Sabbas" with a double b.
  • In the eastern churches sometimes referred to as "Sabbas the Sanctified"


1 See Saint Sabbas the Sanctified Orthodox Monastery. 2 Butler, IV, 495.