Saints in Art – Saint Ambrose

detail of a painting of Saint Ambrose of Milan; date and artist unknown; Vatican Museum, Vatican City, Rome, Italy; swiped with permission from the flickr account of Father Lawrence Lew, OPArticle

Italian: Sant’ Ambrogio. Patron Saint of Milan. (7th December)

Son of a prefect of Gaul, born at Treves, about 340. Legend says that, as a forecast of future eloquence, a swarm of bees alighted on his mouth when he was a baby in the cradle, and did him no harm. On leaving Rome, where he was educated, he went to Milan, and, after becoming distinguished at the Bar there, he was made governor of the province. In 374, on the death of the Archbishop of Milan, a great controversy arose between the orthodox Catholics and the Arians. On the day of the election, Ambrose addressed the violent multitude, and, when he had reduced them to silence by his eloquence, a small child in the crowd shouted out: “Ambrosius Episcopus!” The voice was considered an intimation from Heaven, and, much against his will, by the consensus of the people and the command of the Emperor, Saint Ambrose was shortly afterwards consecrated Bishop. He set to work to be worthy of his office, the importance and authority of which he fully realised. He insisted on the supremacy of the Church over the civil power, by various acts, culminating in his famous action towards the Emperor Theodosius for his massacre in Thessalonica. He excommunicated him, and insisted on his public penance in the cathedral at Milan. There are legends of his healing the sick and lame, and seeing the burial of Saint Martin of Tours in a vision. He also had a miraculous dream, in which the burial place of the bones of the martyrs Saint Gervasius and Saint Protasius were revealed to him, and he had them deposited in Milan Cathedral. Christ visited him on his deathbed; an angel woke the Bishop of Vercelli to give him the last sacrament; he was borne to heaven by angels.

He is usually represented as a bishop, sometimes with a beehive at his feet. More often his attribute is a knotted scourge, with three thongs, representing the Trinitarian doctrines, which put the Arians to flight.

MLA Citation

  • Margaret E Tabor. “Saint Ambrose”. The Saints in Art, with Their Attributes and Symbols. 3 May 2017. Web. 17 December 2018. <>