I’m always on the lookout for images of St. Jerome and his lion. Legend has it that when the saint retreated to the wilderness to study and pray, he came upon a lion with a thorn in its paw. St. Jerome didn’t run or climb a tree. He stopped and removed the thorn. From that day forward, the grateful lion stayed by his side. The fresco above is from a ceiling in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. Agnolo di Cosimo, known as Bronzino, painted it between 1540 and 1565.A more primitive, but still endearing, lion is in the painting above, from the Galleria Nazionale of Umbria in the town of Perugia. The artist painted the lion and the saint sitting peacefully together in a simple landscape, in front of the cave that Jerome may have lived in. Another painting by Perugino shows the saint in contemplation of the Virgin and child, accompanied by other saints. In humble adoration, he’s set his cardinal’s red hat on the ground–and who is lurking beside him? In turn, Jerome’s faithful lion gazes adoringly at him. Isn’t this what we all love to have our pets do? The lion’s face is distinctly human. How many of us humanize our pets? It’s an ancient impulse. The same museum in Perugia has another painting of the saint in the same pose–also with his cardinal’s red hat set humbly on the ground. It’s by Bernardino di Betto, known as il Pintoricchio.
The friendly lion is guarding the hat–and St. Jerome. Who wouldn’t like to have a tame lion riding shotgun all the way through life? Jerome’s lion always had his back.
In medieval times, retreating to the wilderness to meditate was a radical action. Jerome would not have been the first man eaten by a lion in the wilderness. At a time when nature was frightening, St. Jerome was revered for being at one with nature. In our times, retreating to the wilderness still has its risks, but it’s becoming more and more an expensive luxury. Our wildernesses are shrinking and human over-development is routing wild animals from their age-old homes.
I treasure any wildlife sightings, like this fox right outside my window. And I’ll keep looking for glimpses of St. Jerome and his lion.
My previous post about St. Jerome and his lion is at
Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe and the British Isles!