Saint Jerome, Doctor

San Jerónimo, Doctore

Feast day: September 30

Patron of book editors, translators, librarians, scholars, philosophers.

Invoked for protection against temptation.

Essay by Jillian Franzen

Eusebius Hieronymus Sophronius, now known as Saint Jerome and one of the four doctors of the Church, was born in 342 to a wealthy family in a small town in Dalmatia. He was baptized at age 19 after which some time had passed before he became ill. He experienced a vision of Jesus which caused him to take a pilgrimage to Syria to live the life of a hermit. Jerome likely learned Hebrew during this time to help calm his mind. He then relocated to Rome and was ordained a priest but was still permitted to live a hermit’s life. Jerome was forced to leave Rome after gaining several enemies for being too outspoken. He relocated to Bethlehem where he did some of his most important work by translating the Old Testament from Hebrew to Latin—the Vulgata. This later became recognized as the official Latin translation of the Bible for the Catholic Church as decided by the Council of Trent in the mid sixteenth-century. It was during this time that Jerome also wrote the Life of Saint Paul. He died in Bethlehem in the year 419 while resting his head on the manger where Jesus was born.

Jerome is often depicted in retablos as an old man with white hair and a beard set somewhere in the wilderness, which reflects his time as a hermit (figs 1-3). He is sometimes dressed in a red mantle which causes him to be misidentified as a cardinal, although he was never ordained. The three representations shown here depict him as such. All three also include a lion accompanying him in reference to the saint helping the beast by removing a thorn from its paw. A trumpet also appears in the top right corners of these images which represents the announcement of the final judgment. Other depictions of the saint may not include the trumpet or may show both the trumpet and an angel. Sometimes a reference to Jerome’s scholarly nature is depicting by including a stack of books and often a skull is shown as a reminder of his mortality (figs. 2, 3). It is not uncommon to see Saint Jerome holding a stone (figs. 1, 2), a crucifix, or a combination of the two. The inclusion of the stone refers to bloody wounds on his chest or arms from beating himself with a stone in penance while contemplating the crucifix.

Figure 1. Saint Jerome, Doctor / San Jerónimo, Doctore.

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.

Oil on tin. 14 x 10″. NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1965.2.8

Donor: Mr. Fran E. Tolland.

Figure 2. Saint Jerome, Doctor / San Jerónimo, Doctore.

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.

Oil on tin. 9¼x 6¼”. NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1967.1.109.

Donor: Dr. Ezra K. Neidich.

Figure 3. Saint Jerome, Doctor / San Jerónimo, Doctore.

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.

Oil on tin. 10 x 14″. NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1967.1.45.

Donor: Dr. Ezra K. Neidich.

References

Barrely, Christine, Saskia Leblon, Laure Peraudin, and Stephane Trieulet. The Little Book of        Saints. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 2011.

Giffords, Gloria Fraser. Mexican Folk Retablos. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1992.

Giorgi, Rosa. Saints and their Symbols. New York, NY: Abrams, 2011.

Thurston, Herbert and Donald Attwater. Butler’s Lives of the Saints: Complete Edition. 4 vols.    New York, NY: P. J. Kennedy & Sons, 1963.

Zarur, Elizabeth Netto Calil and Charles Muir Lovell, eds. Art and Faith in Mexico: The Nineteenth-Century Retablo Tradition. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2001.