Learn about Sacred and legendary art Vol. 2:
Before entering on the general subject of the early martyrs, I shall place together here the great Patron Saints of Eastern and Western Christendom. All saints are, in one sense, patron saints, either as protectors of some particular nation, province, or city ; or of some particular avocation, trade, or condition of life : but there is a wide distinction to be drawn between the merely national and local saints, and those universally accepted and revered. St. Denis, for instance, is not much honored out of France ; nor St. Januarius, the Lazzarone saint, out of Naples ; but St. George, the patron of England, was at once the great saint of the Greek Church, and the patron of the chivalry of Europe ; and triumphed wherever triumphed the cross, from the Euphrates to the Pillars of Hercules.
Those patron saints who had not, like St. Peter of Rome, St. Mark of Venice, St. James of Spain, St Mary Magdalene, a scriptural and apostolic sanction, yet were invested by the popular and universal faith with a paramount dignity and authority, form a class apart. They are —St. George, St. Sebastian, St. Christopher, St, Cosmo and St. Damian, St. Koch, and St. Nicholas. The virgin patronesses, to whom was rendered a like universal worship, are St. Catherine, St. Barbara, St. Margaret, and St. Ursula.
I place them here together, because I have observed that, in studying the legendary subjects of Art, they must be kept constantly in mind. In every sacred edifice of Europe which still retains its medieval and primal character, whatever might be its destination, whether church, chapel, convent, scuola, or hospital,—in every work of art in which sacred personages are grouped together, without any direct reference to the scenes or events of Scripture, one or other of these renowned patrons is sure to be found ; and it becomes of the utmost importance that their characters, persons, and attributes should be well discriminated. Those who were martyrs do not figure principally in that character. They each represent some phase of the beneficent power, or some particular aspect of the character, of Christ, that divine and universal model to which we all aspire ; but so little is really known of these glorified beings, their persons, their attributes,—the actions recorded of them are so mixed up with fable, and in some instances so completely fantastic and ideal,—that they may be fairly regarded as having succeeded to the honors and attributes of the tutelary divinities of the pagan mythology. It is really a most interesting speculation to observe how completely the prevalent state of society in the middle ages modified the popular notions of these impersonations of divine power.