Saint Philip the Apostle: The Iconography

The natal day Not their birthday but the day they were martyred and "born again" into Heaven of blessed Philip and James, Apostles. Philip converted almost all of Scythia to the faith of Christ, but then in Hierapolis, Asia, he was crucified, stoned, and died gloriously.… – Roman Martyrology for May 11

St. Philip's attributes are a cross and/or a dragon, as in the first photo at right.

The picture above sets forth the story that explains the dragon, as retold in the Golden Legend. In Scythia the saint was commanded to worship an idol of Mars. At the base of the idol's pedestal sat a dragon whose evil breath had killed many Scythians and sickened others. Philip told the Scythians if they would destroy the idol he could make the dragon go away and revive the men it had killed. They pulled down the idol, and Philip was able to save the city. Thereupon thousands of Scythians listened to Philip's sermons and were converted.

In most versions of the legend Philip is crucified in Hierapolis in Phrygia (image), whence the cross as an attribute. But the Early South English Legendary says he died in peace in his bed (364), and presumably the sources of that work said the same. The mosaic above may be influenced by that second recension, as it shows the saint being interred without any reference to a cross.

In western images St. Philip is usually shown as a man in middle or advanced age (example), but in the east he is consistently portrayed as a beardless youth with a somewhat long face and a tousled or bifurcated forelock, holding a scroll in his left hand while he blesses the viewer with his right. The young and beardless St. Philip in the St. Mark's mosaic above similarly holds a scroll, forms the fingers of his right hand in a blessing gesture, and has a bifurcated forelock. (Compare the three pictures at right.)

Prepared in 2015 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University

HOME PAGE

SHOWN ABOVE

St. Philip and the Idol of Mars, in St. Mark's Cathedral, Venice. See the description page for a full explanation.

Mazzuoli, St. Philip, 1795-11 – See description page

10th-century Byzantine portrait – See description page

Philip at the Cathedral of Monreale, Sicily, 12th century – See description page

Detail of the St. Mark's St. Philip and the Idol of Mars: Philip's face (13th century)

DATES

  • Feast day: May 1 originally and among Lutherans and Anglicans; for Catholics the date was moved to May 11 in 1955 and then to May 3 in 1969.

HAGIOGRAPHY