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. 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."
Most images have the saint displaying the monogram on a small tablet that he holds up for the viewer to see, as on the right and in this example. This was in fact his practice when preaching.1 In some other images the symbol is atop a staff, as in the second picture at right and this detail from a painting of St. Helena. Rarely, the sunburst is held without tablet or staff (example).
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.2 This refusal is sometimes referenced by three mitres being placed at his feet, as in the second and third pictures at right.
St. Bernardino is typically shown in his Franciscan habit (note the cincture with three knots), as in the pictures at right.
Prepared in 2015 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University