|Saint Jerome, Doctor of
the Church - 340-420
Medieval and Renaissance images of St. Jerome derive their iconography from the Golden Legend or its sources.
The first episode in the Legend's life of St. Jerome recounts a vision of Jerome's in which he was scourged in Heaven for retaining his books of classical literature. Upon awakening, he saw the marks of the scourge on his shoulders. Thus some images will feature his beaten back (example).
In the next episode the Legend reports, incorrectly, that St. Jerome was a cardinal of the Church. Because of this report, he is almost always represented with a red cardinal's hat and cape, though these are sometimes set aside as a token of humility, as at left.
The next episode tells of the four years St. Jerome spent in the desert, where he prayed and fasted and "ceased not to beat my breast." This part of his life is popular in the art, where he is commonly shown holding a stone used for beating his breast (example). In the painting at left, we even see the bruise the stone has left on his chest. One such image shows him in a ruined apse with a crudely mounted miniature church bell.
Next we read of St. Jerome's long sojourn in Bethlehem, where he studied scripture and completed his translation of the Bible into Latin. This part of the saint's life is represented in the many images that show him in his study with his books (example). Images of this type tend to emphasize his meditation on sacred truth, showing him with a crucifix and/or a skull, conventional props in the iconography of contemplatives (example).
An extension of this type of St. Jerome image is one in which he is placed in a Crucifixion scene (example).
Another aspect of St. Jerome's years in Bethlehem was his promotion of the dedicated life for Christian virgins and his correspondence with a number of these, especially Saints Paula and Eustochium. Thus we will sometimes see him represented in conversation with these women (example).
The Legend then turns to the story of St. Jerome's pulling a thorn from a lion's paw (as in Riemenschneider's sculpture). In gratitude the lion is said to have become a sort of lay brother in Jerome's monastery, doing chores and guarding the monastic donkey. The lion is as common an attribute of the saint as his red cardinal's garb (example).
Feast day: September 30
At left, painting in the Church of St. Mark, León, Spain
a relief at the Barcelona shoemakers' guildAmong other saints:
Piazza, The Crucifixion with SaintsHagiography: