Images of Medieval Art and Architecture

Text from The Saints in Art with their attibutes and symbols alphabetically arranged
by Margaret E. Tabor
Fourth Editon: London, 1924
Pages 65

ST. John (Biblical)
In Italian, San Giovanni
In German, Johann
Saints Day-December 27

Tradition says that St. John was sent to Rome in the reign of Domitian, and cast into a cauldron of boiling oil, but was miraculously preserved. He was afterwards exiled to Patmos, where he wrote the Apocalypse, returning thence to Ephesus, where he died at the age of nearly a hundred years. A legend relates that once in Rome an attempt was made to poison him in the sacramental cup, some say by order of Domitian, but the poison issued miraculously from the cup in the form of a serpent, while his enemies fell dead at his feet, and he and the cornmunicants were saved. A cup often shown in the hand of St. John may refer to this, or to CHRIST'S words to him : " Ye shall indeed drink of My cup." Various legends in the life of St. John are occasionally represented, such as his restoring to life Drusiana, a Christian, at the gates of Ephesus. Also two young men, his converts, having repented of selling all their possessions, St. John told them to collect pebbles and faggots, and these he turned into gold, bidding them go and enjoy earth, since they regretted their exchange for heaven. The belief among the Apostles that " be should not die " gave rise to a legend, not widely received, that he was preserved alive in the tomb, and was translated to heaven. When the Empress Galla Placidia was returning from Constantinople to Ravenna she was overtaken by a violent storm, and vowed to St. John that if she was preserved she would build a magnificent church in his honour. This she did, and having no relic of the saint she prayed for one. He accordingly appeared to her in a vision, and left her one of his sandals, which was long preserved in her church at Ravenna.

He is represented (i) as an Apostle, generally young, beardless, sometimes with book or pen, sometimes with a cup (and serpent) ; (2) as an evangelist, with an eagle; (3) as the writer of the Apocalypse, an old man, in the Isle of Patmos, with the sea in the distance.

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Updated by Jane Vadnal, February, 1998