St. Paul's Depiction in Artwork

Q. Next week we celebrate the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle (January 25). Why is he usually depicted in sacred art with a sword and a scroll or book?


A. Christian martyrs are often depicted with the instrument of their martyrdom. St. Paul holds a sword, because according to tradition, he was beheaded, and his executioners would have used a sword.

The Apostle is depicted with a scroll or book, representing Scripture, because he wrote more books of the Bible than any other single author.


Finally, these two symbols have an additional important meeting in their association with St. Paul, because they remind us of his admonition to the Christians at Ephesus. When the Apostle wrote in his Epistle to the Ephesians about their spiritual armor and weaponry in the fight against the Devil, he told them to “take … the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (6:17).