Ask a Franciscan

Why Are These Symbols Connected With Saints?

Q: I have noticed that many paintings of Saint Jerome include a lion lying at his feet. In other paintings there is a skull. I have noticed similar images in paintings of other saints. I am intrigued by these symbols. What do they mean?

A: Yes, the lion is a very common symbol for Saint Jerome, whose feast we celebrate on September 30. Picturing a wild animal with a saint is a way of saying that holiness restores people to the kind of innocence that Adam and Eve enjoyed at creation. God’s grace leads them full circle.

The conflicts that we take for granted were not part of God’s plan for creation from the very beginning.

In the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, we read: “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair” (11:6-8).

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