Tilman Riemenschneider of the Day: Saint Stephen

Saint Stephen is the patron saint of deacons. Here he is pictured with his attributes of the stones used for his martyrdom and a book. Is he wearing a dalmatic? I think so. Perhaps those deacons who are reading this will be able to tell.

One of the features of Christian iconography that I find fascinating is the convention of portraying saints with the implements of their martyrdom. Saint Stephen as he is pictured here is serene, yet he died a terrible death and that death is remembered. Indeed, his life cannot be recalled, or his future glory celebrated, without reference to his death.

In this way, the image of a saint becomes a witness not merely to virtue or good works, but to the paschal mystery, for the saint has passed through suffering and death to life.



  1. Perhaps even more fascinating is the John the Baptist is frequently portrayed holding the symbol of his martyrdom – not the implement, but holding a plate on which is his own head, the obvious match of the head on his shoulders!

  2. Rita, these sculptures are so powerful……so beautiful. Personally, I like that the saints are depicted with the implements of their martyrdom….it makes the statues much easier to identify. If Stephen were depicted doing the work of a deacon, the staue/painting could be of anyone.

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