Angels and Demons of Catholic Saints: A guide to ‘reading’ the Saints in art.

St Peter’s was one of the largest artworks commissioned by the Catholic church. Notice each saint holds an object that indicates their identity and backstory.

Saint Sebastian

Being an Officer of the Imperial Guard in Rome and a Christian was not a good mix. In 288 AD he was sentenced to death by Diocletian, a notorious anti-Christian Emperor. Taken by soldiers, Sebastian was tied to a stake and shot with arrows by numerous archers and left for dead.

St. Sebastian is on of the most popular subjects. In this museum there were several.
The authorities were keen to do the job properly the second time around.

Saint Lawrence

“Turn me over, I’m done on this side.” Source:

Saint Cassian

As the Great Persecution developed Christians had their rights withdrawn and they were ordered to exercise traditional pagan religious practices. Cassian was a teacher and while at school he refused to make a sacrifice to a pagan god in 363 AD, so he was sentenced to death. His sentence would not be exacted by soldiers though. In a moment of creative genius Cassian was turned over to his students. They were keen to exact revenge against their teacher and tied him to a stake but armed with only writing implements and slate boards Cassian’s death became a drawn-out torturous affair. He is depicted with paper and pen. He is the patron saint of teachers.

Every teacher’s worst nightmare. Source:

Saint Agnes

Committed virgin. At aged 12, or 13, she refused marriage and promised herself to God. According to legend, Agnes was quite beautiful and a member of the nobility in Rome. She was expected to marry a high-ranking Roman soldier, but she refused. The Roman governor was informed that Agnes was a Christian. Condemned, she was stripped naked in the Piazza Navona but miraculously grew a covering of hair that protected her modesty and prevented rape attempts. Eventually soldiers stabbed her in the neck and she died quickly. Patron saint of virgins, Agnes is depicted with a lamb.

St. Agnes Church in Piazza Navona, Rome, was built on the site of her martyrdom.

Saint Bartholomew

Harking from the 1st century AD, Bartholomew was one of Jesus’ apostles. He travelled far and wide to spread the word through India and Armenia. However, the word wasn’t always appreciated and the Armenian king Astyages called for his death after Bartholomew converted the king’s brother.
Bartholomew was dispatched horrendously, being flayed alive, his skin cut off in strips, then beheaded. Although he died abroad, his image is common throughout Italy as he was one of the first martyrs. Bartholomew is usually depicted holding his skin, and the knife used to remove it. Sometimes he is shown skinned, or half skinned. He is the patron saint of butchers and tanners.




Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Anastasia Tyler

Anastasia Tyler


A teacher, writer and traveller, but not necessarily in that order. Writing on life, both real and imagined.