Betsy Porter

The saints rarely did everything right – but the presence of God shone through them! To the worshipper, they are beloved friends, wise companions, models of virtue and courage who share our humanity and show us the way to heaven.

An ancient saint may be known only by a persistent legend which catches the imagination. We have more detailed information on the relatively recent saints.

The comforting and inspiring images of saints adorn churches and homes. Saints are identifiable, not only by inscriptions on the icon, but by their distinctive clothing and by the symbolic items they hold. They are shown with golden halos, illuminated by their interior light and by the brilliance of heaven.


Egg tempera and gold leaf on sculpted board, 11 x 14 inches, 2004
Photograph by Richard Anderson

Many legends and endless speculation surround Saint Mary of Magdala (Mary Magdalen). She was among the close associates of Jesus, and in the Gnostic Gospels she appears as one of his privileged disciples.

Mary Magdalen is called “apostle to the apostles” because she encountered the Risen Lord and announced the Resurrection to the others (John 20:11-18). She is depicted with a red Easter egg announcing “Christ is Risen.”

Mary has been traditionally identified with some of the other women who appear in the gospels, in particular the nameless woman who burst into a dinner party shortly before Jesus’ death and anointed his feet with expensive ointment from an alabaster jar. The jar that she carries has become her identifying attribute.


Egg tempera and gold leaf on sculpted board, 11 x 14 inches, 2004
Photograph by Richard Anderson

Saint Gregory of Nyssa was a Fourth Century bishop and theologian who lived in Asia Minor, the area that is now Turkey. He wrote extensive and insightful works of Biblical commentary. St Gregory has long been honored in the Orthodox churches. More recently his works have attracted the interest of western Christians – among them the founders of my home parish, Saint Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco, CA.


Egg tempera and gold leaf on sculptured
board, 12 x 12.5 inches, 2011
Photograph by Richard Anderson

Gregory was one of the last married bishops of the early church; his wife was Saint Theosebia, a deacon. He came from a large family which included several saints, among them his brother Saint Basil the Great and his sister Saint Macrina the Younger.

Above right, Gregory is depicted in an imposing vestment, probably double-weave wool, with a striking pattern of interlocking crosses. At left, Saints Theosebia and Gregory are shown, not only as a married couple but as a liturgical team.

"We regard falling from God's friendship as the only thing dreadful, and we consider becoming God's friend as the only thing truly worthwhile."


Egg tempera and gold leaf on sculpted board, 9.5 x 12.5 inches, 2005 (unfinished)

Saint Brendan was an early Irish abbot who, around the year 600, sailed westward with his band of sailor monks in a square-rigged curragh, made of leather over a basketry frame. They were probably searching for a reputed earthly paradise in the "Isles of the Blessed."

They had astonishing adventures! They reported seeing flaming mountains, most likely the volcanoes of Iceland. Continuing westward, they found other landings, one of which was probably Newfoundland - which would make them among the earliest discoverers of America.

Although the prevailing winds were against them, they managed to return to Ireland. Saint Brendan lived to be 93 and founded several more monasteries.


Egg tempera and gold leaf on panel, 8 x 10 inches, 2007
Photograph by Richard Anderson

Saint Dorothy was an early Christian martyr. Before her death, a sarcastic friend taunted her - "You say heaven is like a beautiful garden, so when you get there, send me some fruit and flowers from heaven." After her martyrdom, he mysteriously received a basket containing 3 apples and 3 roses - and they were types he had never seen before.

Saint Dorothy is associated with gardens, flowers and fruit. She is a patron saint of gardeners and florists.


Egg tempera and gold leaf on shaped panel, 7 x 10 inches, 2006
Photograph by Richard Anderson

This small icon in Byzantine style is based on a full-length image of Francis painted soon after his death, which would date from the time before Western art had diverged markedly from the art of Byzantium.

The landscape and building evoke Francis' life in the hills of Italy, and the flying birds recall his affection for all of creation. The daytime landscape continues into a nighttime border, decorated with sun, moon, and stars on a heavenly blue similar to the blue used in Italian frescoes.


Egg tempera and gold leaf on panel, 9.5 x 12.5 inches, 2004

George of Lydda, the ideal soldier, is the subject of many popular images, legends, and folktales. He often appears as a graceful knight on a white horse, killing a dragon who emerges from a dark cave. In this icon, modeled after a famous example in St. Petersburg, Russia, the dragon does not appear very threatening!

In life, George was a high-ranking Roman soldier who was beheaded for his faith after seven years of horrendous tortures. Some years after his death, George put in an appearance to save a city that was troubled by a dragon.


Egg tempera and gold leaf on panel, 5 x 6 inches, 2009 photograph by Richard Anderson


Defender of the Innocent, Courageous Martyr, Valiant in Adversity, Patron of Framers

Egg tempera and gold leaf on sculpted board, 11 x 14 inches, 2012


Egg tempera and gold leaf on panel, 7 x 10 inches, 2007
Photograph by Richard Anderson

Saint Marina of Antioch, known in the West as Saint Margaret, was the teen-aged daughter of a pagan priest who banished her to the countryside when he learned that she was a Christian. There she lived with a foster mother and worked as a shepherdess. But her beauty caught the eye of a powerful man who, when she turned him down, had her imprisoned and eventually beheaded.

This early and semi-legendary saint has been much revered throughout Christian history, and many churches are dedicated to her. It was the voice of Saint Margaret that spoke to Joan of Arc.

Saint Marina is shown here as a shepherdess, in the red garment of a martyr, carrying a martyr’s cross. Her hand is raised in a gesture of renunciation.


John the Baptist is among the most revered of saints. Like the desert prophets before him, he is depicted with shaggy hair and beard, tanned from living outdoors. His garment of blue-green fur evokes his association with the river Jordan.

John is shown in his wild, dangerous, beautiful desert environment.

Egg tempera and gold leaf on panel, 13 x 17 inches, 2009
Photograph by Richard Anderson

Egg tempera and gold leaf on panel, 7 x 9 inches, 2007

Below right, egg tempera and gold lead on sculpted board, 4 x 6 inches, 2014

His severed head prefigures his coming violent and unjust execution, completing his story.

There is a legend that John will come and preach the Gospel to any dying person who has not heard it previously.


Egg tempera and gold leaf on panel, 7 x 9 inches, 2007
Photograph by Richard Anderson

Everything works better when you can do it with friends! Even Jesus knew that he needed friends, helpers, colleagues to assist and support him in his work. The fisherman Simon, later nicknamed Peter, was among the first and most intimate of Jesus’ many friends and associates.

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter went on to become a primary leader of the early church.

He is shown here in a posture of prayer and adoration. His scroll represents the legacy of the holy word which he holds.


Egg tempera and gold leaf on panel, 5 x 6 inches, 2005

Lydia appears in Acts 16:14-15, as one of St. Paul's early converts in Macedonia. In the patriarchal society of the time, she was an independent woman, with her own business dealing in precious purple cloth. Paul and his traveling companions stayed as guests in her home.


Egg tempera and gold leaf on sculpted board, 9.5 x 12.5 inches, 2004

Seraphim was a monastic hermit who lived in a hut in the northern woods of Russia. He was severely injured by brigands who thought he was hiding a treasure, but recovered and forgave them, although his back remained stooped. He shared his already-small Lenten rations with a bear.

Seraphim became a famous teacher (starets) and healer, with the reputed ability to “read” the hearts of others. He was full of the Holy Spirit, and on one occasion is said to have shone with visible light like the sun.


Egg tempera and gold leaf on panel, 5 x 6 inches, 2008

In this small personal icon, Saint Andrew is depicted as a respected and confident teacher. To see how this icon was painted, go to the Step by Step page.


Egg tempera and gold leaf on shaped panel, 6 x 8 inches, 2009

Saint Nicholas, an early bishop renowned for his generosity, is much beloved across northern and eastern Europe.


Egg tempera and gold leaf on panel, 5 x 6 inches, 2009
Photograph by Richard Anderson

The early virgin martyrs, legendary young women who were imprisoned, tortured, and executed for their faith, have been much revered throughout Christian history. They typically ran into trouble when higher-ranking men took an unwelcome fancy to them.

Catherine, a beautiful and scholarly princess, is the most glamorous of these saints. She is often depicted with the wheel on which she was tortured. Her voice, along with that of Saint Margaret, is said to have spoken to Joan of Arc.

No writings or sayings of Saint Catherine have come down to us. The words on her scroll come from the approximately contemporary Abba Pambo, a Desert Father, but they seem to fit Catherine's generous nature.


Egg tempera and gold leaf on panel, 8 x 10 inches, 2009
Photograph by Richard Anderson

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God ... and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. And we have seen his glory, full of grace and truth. From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace."

Using a quill pen, John writes his inspiring words with his left hand into a precariously balanced book - while the Spirit of God, personified as a small angel, whispers into his ear. The words of the inscription begin in the book and continue around the margin.

SAINT JOHN the EVANGELIST and Saint Prochoros on the Island of Patmos

Egg tempera, gold leaf, and shell gold on panel, 8 x 10 inches, 2008
photograph by Richard Anderson

Unlike the other apostles, Saint John lived to an old age, but he did not escape persecution. With his young disciple Prochoros, he was sent to the prison island of Patmos. Here they take shelter in a cave which occupies most of the craggy and exaggeratedly tiny island, surrounded by restless seas.

John receives inspiration from heaven and dictates the Word of God to the scribe Prochoros. The 3 rays coming from heaven represent the Trinity.

To see how this icon was painted, go to the Step by Step page.


Egg tempera and gold leaf on panel, 8 x 10 inches, 2010
photograph by Richard Anderson

"I have set you to be a light to the peoples, and to bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth." Saint Paul is shown on a voyage across a very compact Mediterranean Sea, to spread the Gospel in a distant city. He holds a bundle of scrolls as he engages in a lively discussion with the ship's captain.

Saint Paul's memorable adventures and misadventures are told in the Book of Acts and in his own writings. He endured repeated shipwrecks as well as human misunderstandings and hostility. By the time he was imprisoned and beheaded, he had established Christian churches in a number of cities, all around the eastern Mediterranean area.

SAINT LI BAN of IRELAND - Princess, Survivor, Mermaid

According to Irish Legend, Li Ban, a king's daughter, was one of the few survivors of a great flood that occurred before the arrival of Saint Patrick. For a year, Li Ban lived with her lap dog in the sun room of her seaside castle. When they ran out of food, Li Ban became a mermaid and the dog became an otter. Together they fished the coastal waters for 300 years. Then they were found by some monks and came ashore; and Li Ban was baptized as a Christian. Rather than live as a mermaid for another 300 years, Li Ban chose to die and go to heaven.

Li Ban is shown with arms raised in "orans" or prayer position, praising God for her life, her freedom, and her beautifully wild and verdant environment.

Li Ban is much revered by lovers of Celtic culture; I recently discovered that she has her own website!

Egg tempera and gold leaf on shaped sculpted board, 7 x 8 inches, 2010
photograph by Richard Anderson painted as a gift for my daughter Sarah Porter, author of the "Lost Voices" trilogy of
young adult novels about contemporary teenage mermaids.

SAINT LUKE the EVANGELIST Gospel Writer - Beloved Physician

Egg tempera and gold leaf on shaped sculpted board, 7 x 8 inches, 2011
photograph by Richard Anderson

Saint Luke accompanied Saint Paul on some of his voyages, and is credited with writing the Book of Acts as well as the Gospel According to Saint Luke.

Because Paul mentions Luke as "the beloved physician," many hospitals are named after him, and he is a patron of all health care workers. He is also traditionally believed to have painted three portraits of Mary with her baby Jesus, making him the first iconographer.

Luke's gospel is the only one to include the Annunciation to Mary, the Christmas story of Jesus' birth in a stable in Bethlehem, the parable of the Prodigal Son, and the parable of the Good Samaritan. He is notable for his sensitivity toward the poor and oppressed, and for his friendly attitude toward women.


Egg tempera and gold leaf on sculpted board, 7 x 7 inches, 2012
photograph by Richard Anderson

Saint Philothea (c. 1206-1218) was from Bulgaria, a 12-year-old victim of domestic violence. Every day she carried lunch to her farmer father in the fields, but along the way she shared some of it with poor children. When he found out, her father became so angry that he killed her. He then made confession to the local bishop, who considered Philothea a martyr and tried to bring her remains to the cathedral - but her body could not be moved! Finally a monastery in Romania was named, and Philothea allowed her body to be moved there. Her relics still receive much devotion and are reputed to perform miracles - and she is called Protectress of Romania.

Young Philothea is shown in a martyr's red robe, holding a basket of food in her left hand and a martyr's cross in her right.


Egg tempera and gold leaf on shaped panel, 8 x 10 inches, 2014

The story of Saint Stephen, the first Christian Martyr, is told in Acts 6 and 7. After an impassioned sermon, this young man was stoned to death by an angry mob. As he died, he said, "Look, I can see heaven thrown open!"

Because Stephen held the position of deacon, he is shown in the white garment of an Orthodox deacon. He wears a martyr's red robe and carries a martyr's cross.

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