Symbolism found in the Thorvaldsen statues of Christ’s original apostles
Following are some of the representations of symbolism found in the statues of Christ’s apostles, sculpted by Bertel Thorvaldsen:
- Peter — The keys held in Peter’s right hand are symbolic of Matthew 16:19, where Christ told Peter, “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
- James — James is depicted holding a shepherd’s staff or walking stick and sporting hat behind his left shoulder. Tradition has James preaching in Spain, with many Christian pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago route to Santiago de Compostela, believed by some to be the apostles’ burial location.
- John — The lack of a beard underscores the youth of John, and the writing slate and pencil symbolize his role as an evangelist and one of the authors of the four gospels. At his feet is an eagle, which was one of the winged creatures mentioned in Revelation 4:7, John being the author of that New Testament book.
- Paul — In collections of apostle statues, Paul often replaces Judas Iscariot. In Paul’s left hand, he holds a sword. Tradition has Paul suffering death under Emperor Nero around 65 A.D. As a Roman citizen, Paul was spared crucifixion, but was beheaded instead.
- Matthew — Like the statue of John, the statue of Matthew holds a writing slate and a pencil. Beside Matthew’s right foot is a bag of money, which symbolizes Matthew’s original profession as a tax collector.
- Philip — He is holding a small cross, since tradition has Philip often preaching of Christ’s crucifixion. Also, Philip himself was apparently crucified upside down.
- James — This son of Alphaeus is represented holding a staff or fuller’s club. This apostle was stoned and then beaten to death with such a club, near the temple in Jerusalem.
- Thomas — Thomas holds a builder’s square because an ancient story has Thomas building a palace for King Gudaphara in India. Also, since the “doubting Thomas” didn’t initially believe the reports of the Savior’s resurrection, and only believed after touching the wounds in the Savior’s hands and feet, the square symbolizes his belief in things “measured and weighed”.
- Bartholomew — The knife being held by Bartholomew conveys the legend of his death at the command of the king of Armenia.
- Andrew — This brother of Peter is shown holding a book or scroll and accompanied by an X-shaped cross, representing the legend of his death in Patras, Greece.
- Judas Thaddaeus — This statue hold a halberd, which is a long-handled medieval weapon combining a spear and a battle-ax. Stories have this Judas suffering a martyr’s death in Persia.
- Simon Zelotes — The saw held in front of this apostle represents the tradition of his death in Persia.