Iconography (by Molly, for anyone wondering)

Sounds like the latest Apple technology, doesn’t it? Actually, it’s my secret way of taking over people’s brains.

OK, OK. I thought that would be a good way to draw my reader in. Can I trust you with a secret?

Iconography is the ancient (and medieval, and modern) way of showing who people are through symbols. For instance, if you see a person with a spear, it is Athena, the Goddess of War. This method started in the good ol’ days when most people were illiterate. It is still used in mythology and religion.

In Greek mythology, as I said before, Athena is always carrying a spear. If you can’t read (well, I suppose nobody reading this article can’t read), then you can look at the pictures and figure out who did what.

The bible is another example. Many people in the early days of Christianity couldn’t read, so they wrote the book in pictures. St. Nicholas is always holding three gold balls, for example. And if you see someone fighting a dragon, it can be no one other than St. George.

Here is a list of some iconography symbols that I haven’t mentioned:

Hercules: holding a club.

St. Sebastian: shot full of arrows.

Jesus: beard, halo, holes in hands and feet. Front and center.

St. Bernard: this one’s easy. He’s a dog.

If you want to impress your friends when visiting a church or historical site, notice a symbol that you know and point to it. Tell them who it is, and when they doubt it then ask somebody, they’ll be amazed! If they ask you how you knew, make up a ridiculous lie that makes you sound like a genius.  Either that, or just tell them it’s iconography and make a mysterious escape.


3 responses to “Iconography (by Molly, for anyone wondering)

  1. Eli Demosthenes

    Debra Demosthenes here….
    Dear Molly,
    My favorite bit of iconography concerns St. Lucy. She is always holding a pair of eyeballs on a plate. Christian iconography, to be sure, and a ghoulish reference to her martyrdom, but I am an art historian and rarely get to use the word iconography, much less share some of it.

    You all look wonderfully happy and we are thrilled vicariously each time we read the blog.

    Theo, Eli is on at Outdoor Survival Camp, but I know he will respond to your email when he returns.

    Happy travels!

  2. Molly,

    I love your blog about iconography. Have you learned more yet about the gargoyle you saw in two different churches and what it represents?

    Thanks for being such a great teacher! You’re educating all of us!

    Love, Marmie

  3. I’ve been traveling myself for the past few weeks, albeit domestically, so I haven’t checked in for a while. It’s such a delight to read your blog.

    I love this post, Molly, and the interview with yourself and the one-act play.


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