Saint Euphemia, Martyr: The Iconography

According to the Golden Legend Euphemia was a woman of senatorial rank who died for her faith in Chalcedon in 280 during the reign of Diocletian. That reign, however, began only in 285. At some time during the persecutions of that era she brought her Christian faith to the attention of the judge Priscus, who ordered several attempts to put her to death (by fire, then by the sword, then pressed under great stones, then exposed to wild beasts). Finally a guard1 ran her through with a sword.


Early images such as the one at left present the saint as a generic virgin martyr, without an attribute. A mosaic in St. Marks gives her a small cross and a diadem, the latter perhaps referring to her senatorial status.

Narrative Images

So far, the only narrative images I have found are two 19th-century frescoes in the Basilica of St. Euphemia in Rovinj, Croatia, where her relics are preserved in a 6th-century sarcophagus.2 One fresco has the arrival of the sarcophagus in Rovinj; the other gives a very confused rendering of the martyrdom. (See below, left.)

Feast day: September 16

Upper left: detail from the apse mosaics in the Euphrasian Basilica

Other images:
Mosaic in the Archiepiscopal Chapel, Ravenna
6th-century mosaic in Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna

Golden Legend #139


1Praeses in Graesse (618), "headman" in Ryan (II, 183), "butcher" in Caxton.
2Information from Wikipedia, s.v. "St. Euphemia's Basilica."