The three knives are the symbol of St. Bartholomew (also known as Nathaniel) In Hebrew, Bartholomew means “Son of Talmai” and Nathaniel means, “Gift of God”. Three flaying knives were used for skinning animals, are his most common symbol. Nathaniel was the “Israelite without guile” (John 1:47). Nathaniel’s faith was constant; after the crucifixion he missioned in Jerusalem and later in Asia Minor and Southern Russia where he founded numerous churches. He is said to have been flayed alive and then crucified. He suffered martyrdom in Russia.
The cup with snake is the symbol for St. John the beloved Disciple (Hebrew; “God has mercy”) According to tradition, John drank from a cup of poison, but the poison disappeared in the form of a snake. John and his brother James were men of zeal and ambition, desiring the highest seats beside Jesus in the Heavenly Kingdom. They were taught humility instead. John witnessed the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, faithfully standing at the foot of the cross. For his faith and love of Jesus, John was given, by our Lord, the care of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to receive her as his own mother. He missioned in Samaria and Asia Minor and was a great pillar of the early church. He wrote the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation, and died peacefully of old age about 100 AD exiled on the Greek isle of Patmos.
The Basket with a “T” (Tau Cross) is the symbol for St. Philip (Greek; Lover of Horses) usually Philip is pictured by a cross and loaves of bread which refers to the feeding of the 5,000. He introduced his friend, Bartholomew/Nathaniel to Christ. While at various times, Philip expresses uncertainty of Jesus as the Son of god, he was a loyal friend to Jesus. After Pentecost, Philip became a missionary in South Russia, Asia Minor, and possibly also France. He was crucified in Hierapolis, Turkey. In 2011, his tomb was uncovered near the Turkish city of Denizli.
Spear and carpenter’s square are symbolic of St. Thomas (Aramaic, Twin) Thomas is said to have built a church with his own hands in East India at Malipur. While there, he was shot with arrows and finally martyred by a pagan priest’s spear. He was a simple fisherman from Galilee and followed Jesus, he would not believe that Jesus rose from the dead until he saw Jesus with his own eyes, and touched his wounds. (John 11: 14-16) In the Early church, he was a zealous and fearless missionary, preaching in Babylon, Persia and India. There he founded many churches, baptized countless people.
Two crossed Keys – Simon/Peter (Simon is Hebrew for “Obedient” Peter Greek for “Rock”) The two crossed keys are the symbol of St. Peter, who was given the keys to the kingdom of Heaven by Jesus. (Matthew 16:13-19) Peter was a Galilean fisherman, introduced to Jesus through the apostle Andrew, his brother. Later, called from the seashore to follow Christ, Peter was impulsive and assertive. Often he questions and misunderstands Jesus, although his loyalty is never questioned. When the Gospels speak of Peter, it is usually first, as he was the natural leader of the apostles. Although he publicly denied Christ three times (as Jesus predicted at the Last supper) He was also the first to recognize Jesus as the Son of God, and so Jesus changed his name from Simon to Peter and declared “Upon this rock, I will build my Church” at Pentecost, Peter boldly preaches the Gospel. He was imprisoned in Jerusalem by King Herod (AD 42-44) but was released by an angel. He preached the gospel throughout Palestine, Babylon, Greece and he was finally crucified by Nero Caesar in Rome. Because he felt unworthy to be crucified as Jesus, he asked to be crucified upside down, a request that was honored. In 1942, the tomb and bones of St Peter were found hidden in a tomb that lies under the floor beneath St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. The bones were tested and belonged to a robust man who died man in his 60’s.
Fish resting on the Bible – Simon the Zealot (Hebrew for Obedient); This symbol is given to Simon because he was a great fisher of men through the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He is said to have been a companion of Jude on many of his missionary journeys. When Jesus met Simon, he was a Zealot, a member of a group of revolutionaries carrying on guerrilla warfare against the Romans. Simon hoped Jesus would become the next king of Israel and forcefully remove Roman rule from Israel. He eventually became an apostle and a man of peace. It is believed that in later years he preached the gospel in Russia, Africa Britain and was martyred in Persia.
Boat with Sails is a symbol of St Jude Thaddeus (Hebrew “praised” and Aramaic “Wise”) The ship symbolizes his travels with Simon on missionary juries. Thaddeus only appears in the Gospel at the Last Supper when he asks Jesus why He his disclosing Himself to the Apostles and not to the rest of the world (John 14;22) Jesus’ answer was that those who did good already knew Him. In the early Church Thaddeus worked as a missionary preaching in Asia Minor and Russia. He was eventually martyred around 65 AD. He was beaten with a club in Beirut in the Roman province of Syria with St Simon the Zealot. His bones are interned in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.
Two crossed fish symbolize St. Andrew (Greek for ‘manly”). Tradition says that Andrew was crucified in Greece on an X shaped cross. The symbol recalls that cross and his original occupation as a fisherman along with his call to become a ‘fisher of men’. (Matthew 4:19 and Mark 1:17) He began his ministry as a follower of St John the Baptist. He introduced his brother, Peter to the boy with the loaves and fish (from which Jesus multiplied the food to feed the 5,000) He was a missionary to Asia Minor and later, southern Russia. He was imprisoned and crucified in 69 AD.
The Saw is the symbol for St. James the Less/the Younger (English form of Jacob; James means “the supplanter” in Hebrew) The saw represents the method of St James’s martyrdom in Russia. It is believed that James was Matthew’s brother and probably a Zealot and was in opposition to his brother, a tax collector for Rome. He and Matthew were reconciled through Jesus. James preached in Syria and later in Russia. Because much of his life was not recorded and is unknown, he is considered the patron saint of the nameless.
The sword laid on the book of the bible is the symbol for St. Paul (Latin meaning “little”) In Ephesians 6:17, Paul speaks of the Word of God as being the sword of the Spirit. Paul was originally named Saul and was leader of the Pharisees; a Jewish sect that adhered strictly to the Laws of Moses. He was present and approved of the martyrdom of the Christian deacon Stephen, who was martyred by having heavy stones thrown at him. While riding out to another persecution of Christians, Saul saw Christ who asked him, “Why are you persecuting Me?” Paul was blinded (acts 9: 4-9) Saul found Ananias, a Christian, who assisted in Saul’s baptism, and Saul was renamed, Paul. Paul became a major Christian missionary, preaching not only to the Jews, but also Gentiles (non Jews) He is the writer of numerous letters (Epistles) that eventually became part of the canon of the Books of the Holy Bible. Paul suffered gladly both violence and ridicule for the love of Christ and the Gospel. About three years after the crucifixion of St Peter, St. Paul embraced his own martyrdom, reserved for a citizen of Rome, that of being beheaded. His bones were found in a white marble sarcophagus hidden beneath the floor of the basilica of St Paul’s outside the walls in Rome. In 2006 the bones were tested and confirmed the tradition that they were the Apostle Paul’s.
Three bags of money, the symbol for St Matthew/Levi (Hebrew “The Lord’s Gift”) Three purses of money symbolize his first profession (Matthew 9:9 & 10:3) He is believed to be the brother of James the younger (Matthew 10:3 Mark 2:14); As a tax collector in Galilee he was probably ambitious, greedy and corrupt. He would have been despised by other Jews because he worked for the Romans. He left his profession at the invitation of Jesus to “Follow Me” (Luke 5: 27-28) Matthew preached the good news in Asia Minor, Greece, Armenia. The Gospel of Matthew is attributed to his authorship. He is believed to have been martyred in Armenia. The method of his martyrdom remains unclear, with traditions having him burned, stoned or beheaded.
Three scalloped shells are the symbols of St James the Great (James is the English version of Jacob, which means supplanter) James was the brother of St John the Evangelist. The Scalloped shells are a symbol of pilgrimage representing James’s missionary spirit. Some traditions have him preaching in Spain until his return to Palestine and martyrdom. In 44AD he was beheaded for his faith by King Herod Agrippa I. James was the first apostle to be martyred. His bones were moved to a tomb at Compostela, Spain and enshrined at the Basilica that was built in his honor.