Via Media

Via Media

St. Jerome…and others

Today is the memorial of St. Jerome – whom we should go read about right now. Let’s see…where?

Start here for a brief introduction


Links to online texts of many of his works, including his letters, here.

From his commentary on Isaiah, which is in today’s Office of Readings:

For if, as Paul says, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, and if the man who does not know Scripture does not know the power and wisdom of Gods, then ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.


St. Jerome was quite a popular subject for artists – the inherent drama of his situation – out there in the wilderness, surrounded by his texts, translating and writing  – was quite attractive to artists. Here’s a page with quite a few thumbnails of images of St. Jerome in art and here’s a French site that focuses specifically of images of St. Jerome and his lion.

And what of that lion? The imagery is rooted in early medieval hagiography which told a story  – inspired most assume by Aesop, but others draw connections to another saint, Gerasimus, whose legend includes a similar tale. The story is of a lion, rescued from a wound by Jerome, who is brought into the monastery to watch and protect the monks’ donkey. One day, the donkey is lost, and the monks (not Jerome) assume the lion has killed him, and punish him with menial tasks as a consequence.


The donkey, however, had been stolen by traders, and one evening the lion sees the donkey, returning with the traders, and he alerts the monastery. The monks, so quick to rush to judgment, are chastised by Jerome, and the lion lives out his days, faithful to his friend.

Goddenstjerome_1 There are at least two versions of this story retold for children. The more contemporary version was written by Margaret Hodges, who has quite a few saints’ books under her belt, and illustrated by Barry Moser.

Then there’s the Rumer Godden version which is a little longer than the modern telling, and is of course, by Rumer Godden.

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posted September 30, 2006 at 11:23 am

The story is also to be found in the wonderful Book of Saints and Friendly Beasts, by Abbie Farwell Brown. Sadly out of print, but perhaps findable.

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posted September 30, 2006 at 12:58 pm

I love the story of some Pope walking by a mural portraying St. Jerome, pausing and saying, “If you could be a saint, ANYBODY could be a saint.”
He really does strike one as a cantankerous old grouch. Our St. Bonaventure Society read some of his stuff out loud and it’s a bit, shall we say, musty seeming. I love the saints who seem ill-tempered and out for a fight like Jerome, Cyril of Alexandria, and Simon Stylites. The “Nasty Saints”, I call them. I pray to them frequently!
Ol’ Jerome thought it would be a neat idea to adopt a young girl and raise her right, unlike all the other parents–boy, oh boy! was that ever a lesson to him! I laugh every time I think about it. Raising a daughter ain’t a paint by theological numbers job!
Saint Jerome, patron saint of ill-tempered know-it-alls, pray for us sinners here below and give us hope that we may join you in everlasting Glory, where Our Lord reigns with His Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.

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posted September 30, 2006 at 2:25 pm

St. Jerome is also the patron of translators. We ought to pray to him for more accurate translations of the liturgical texts.

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Donald R.McClarey

posted September 30, 2006 at 7:17 pm

“He really does strike one as a cantankerous old grouch.”
Many of his contemporaries thought so also. He sometimes reminds me of a religious Ambrose Bierce! A perfect patron saint for irascible Bloggers!

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Rich Leonardi

posted September 30, 2006 at 8:57 pm

From George Ferguson’s Signs & Symbols in Christian Art

An interesting legend is told that, while he was living at his monastery in Bethlehem, a lion, limping grievously, suddenly appeared. The other monks fled, but St. Jerome, in complete confidence, examined the lion’s paw and removed from it a deeply embedded thorn. The lion, to show his gratitude, became the constant companion of the saint. But the troubles of the lion had not yet ended. The monks of the convent petitioned St. Jerome that the lion should work to earn his daily food, as did everyone else in the convent. St. Jerome agreed, and ordered the lion to act as a guard for the ass of the convent on its trips to fetch wood. All went well for a time One day the lion wandered off into the familiar desert, leaving the ass unguarded. Left alone, the ass was seized by robbers and sold to a caravan of merchants, who led it away. On his return, the lion could not find the ass, and went back to the convent alone, in great distress. The monks, seeing the lion’s apparently guilty look, thought that he had eaten the ass. The lion was then ordered to do the work of the ass in atonement. The lion obeyed in perfect humility, but one day he saw the ass in a caravan, and triumphantlyh brought the whole caravan to the convent to prove his innocence.

Were this not a family blog, I would offer an interesting moral to the story.

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posted October 1, 2006 at 5:30 pm

I do like your image of St Jerome and his lion. At first glance it looks as if they are playing chess :-)

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posted October 2, 2006 at 10:56 am

The lion, tamed and even reduced to humiliating tasks, seems to me nothing more than Jerome’s alter ego, an outward symbol of the saint beset by a notorious temper that he must have struggled to keep in check.

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posted December 25, 2007 at 1:51 pm

St. Jerome is the patron saint of libraries since he kept volumes of handwritten bibles. The story of the lion includes the routine of the lion waiting outside at the entrance for Jerome to finish his work.
This is why we see a cement lion at entrances of libraries.

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posted December 25, 2007 at 1:52 pm

St. Jerome is the patron saint of libraries since he kept volumes of handwritten bibles. The story of the lion includes the routine of the lion waiting outside at the entrance for Jerome to finish his work.
This is why we see a cement lion at entrances of libraries.

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Sandee Brandt

posted January 10, 2008 at 3:37 pm

I understand most of the symbolism associated with Jerome–but one has me stumped. Can anyone tell me why St. Jerome is often depicted as half-clad and what this means?

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