|Saint John the Evangelist
St. John was one of the apostles and was traditionally taken to be the author of the Gospel of John; 1, 2, and 3 John; and the Book of Revelation. His portrait occurs most frequently with the other evangelists, with an eagle as his emblem (example). St. John almost always appears in images of the crucifixion. Many images also have St. John on the island of Patmos receiving the vision detailed in the Book of Revelation (example).
In the story that had the greatest influence on the saint's iconography, St. John proves his bona fides by drinking a cup of poison without ill effect. Artists solved the problem of how to represent a poisonous liquid by using snakes as a visual metaphor, as in the image at left. When St. John is portrayed among saints other than the apostles his attribute is often the chalice rather than the eagle (example).
Other episodes in St. John's legend include the raising of Drusiana from the dead, the destruction of Diana's temple (image), his preaching and object lesson to Actius and Eugenius (image), the raising to life of Satheus (image), and Domitian's attempt to kill him by immersion in boiling oil (image). In several vitas of St. Edward the Confessor he is said to have appeared to that English king in the guise of a poor pilgrim. Edward gave the pilgrim a costly ring, which is one of that saint's attributes.
When the Gospels mention St. John along with his brother St. James, they almost list James first. From this the tradition grew that he was younger than James. To indicate this youthfulness, artists usually have him without a beard, even as early as this fresco from the 5th century.
Feast days: May 6 (St. John at the Latin Gate) and December 27
At left, a 17th-century portrait by Alonso Cano.
Other images of John's vision on Patmos:
14th century reliefAlso see:
Golden Legend #9: html or pdf
Golden Legend #69: html or pdf
Acts of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian