What images tell you (and what I've learned so far...)

08 August 2021

Today, August 8, 2021, we commemorate the solemnity of St. Dominic de Guzman, the founder of the order of preachers.

The UST Museum houses various Santos in its collection and earlier this year, we found archival photos of our Santos in the Archivo de la Universidad de Santo Tomas including an image of the founder of the Order of Preachers.

Let us then take a closer look at St. Dominic using some famous art pieces and some documentations from the Archivo and the UST Museum.

Santo Domingo de Guzman (Hardwood) - Photograph courtesy of the Archivo de la Universidad de Santo Tomas . Actual image is on display at the UST Museum (UST-S-00156)

Symbols and Attributes

Dominican Brother Charles M. Daley in his article “Some Dominican Iconography” in 1929 differentiated symbols and attributes. Symbols are often chosen to signify qualities or ideas such as martyrdom fortitude among others. Crucifixes, in his example, are proper symbols for a preacher. The usage of palm branches also symbolizes martyrdom. This came from the Greeks wherein they award palms to victors and in the Christian sense, martyrdom is considered a victory over the world. (Daley, O.P., 1929)

Attributes on the other hand are the distinctive characteristics of the person represented. It refers to some historical event that happened during the life or death of a saint. An example of an attribute is that of St. Catherine of Alexandria: a broken wheel, which represents how she was tortured and the miracle of her redemption. (Daley, O.P., 1929)

"St. Dominic of Guzman" - Gaspar de Crayer, Property of Museo del Prado, Oil on canvas, 1655. Digitally displayed as a photograph on the website of the Order of Preachers.

St. Dominic: Symbols and Attributes

Daley associated St. Dominic with the following symbols or attributes:

  • Dominican Habit

The black and white habit is attributed to the Dominicans. The colors may be considered symbolic with the color white denoting purity etc., with the black denoting mortification and penance.

  • Rosary

St. Dominic is often depicted holding a rosary. According to legend, Our Lady handed the Most Holy Rosary to Dominic to combat the Albigensian heresy in southern France during 1170-121. (Dominican Laity - The Third Order of St. Dominic - New England Region, n.d.) It symbolizes St.Dominic's desire to make Christ known to the pagans. (Ordo Praedicatorum, 2021)

  • A star over his head (or on the forehead)

The Star is attributed to the light that appeared on St. Dominic’s head during his baptism. With this, St. Dominic is also called The Light of the Church or “Lumen Ecclesiae”. The star's appearance may vary in terms of its physical points. Some artworks may depict five-pointed stars, six-pointed stars, or even eight-pointed stars, but usually the latter proves to be the most common of the three. (Daley, O.P., 1929).

A photo of an image of St. Dominic - Retrieved from the Archivo de la Universidad de Santo Tomas. The actual object is in the safekeeping of the UST Museum (UST-S-00684).

  • Lily Symbolizes the purity of life: Chastity.

  • Book and Staff

The books and staff are attributed to the visions commissioned to him by St. Peter and St. Paul which is to “Go and Preach” with the book symbolizing the letters of St. Paul. Seeing the book sans the staff would mean the Constitutions of his order and his formal designation as the founder. (Daley, O.P., 1929)

  • The Crucifix

The crucifix symbolizes the designation of St. Dominic as a preacher. A Preacher of grace or Praedicator Gratiae. (Daley, O.P., 1929)

  • Dog with a Torch

This is attributed to the birth of St. Dominic in which her mother dreamt of him in the appearance of a black and white dog carrying a torch that illuminated the world. The Dominicans – the popular name of the religious children of St. Dominic, alludes to the Latin name “Domini canes” which means “Dogs of the Lord” that wear their dual-colored habits as they spread the light of Christ throughout the World. (The Birth of Saint Dominic, n.d.)

St. Dominic and the UST Museum

An image of St. Dominic is currently displayed in the halls of the UST Museum. The description, as found, is stated below:

“Hair is tonsured with the forelock. Hair, mustache, and beard are painted black. His lips are thin and his ears stick out. He wears the cowl and cape over his Dominican habit with the scapular. He holds a palm in his right hand and a book on the other.”

Additional remarks were given by Prof. Esperanza Gatbonton, a prolific writer on Philippine Santos , regarding the image which says:

“The XVIIth century attribution is probable since the Dominicans were already evangelizing in Pangasinan by the closing years of the sixteenth century. It is safer to assume, however, that this image may have been carved for a stone church, not a visita.”


Learning about symbols and attributions found in an image is an interesting exercise. It narrates a story. Stories and meanings not only help us identify an object or a saint but also allow us to discover the history behind such. Today, I have learned much about St. Dominic and admittedly, there is still a lot to learn from his life, devotion, and the creation of the Order. For now, we take heed of the elements found in his image to help us identify St. Dominic, wherever we may see him.

Happy Feast Day, St. Dominic de Guzman!

An image of Saint Dominic de Guzman - UST Museum (UST-S-00156)


Daley, O.P., C. (1929, December). Some Dominican Iconography. Dominicana by the Dominican Theological Students, Washington D.C., 14(4), 298-311. Retrieved August 8, 2021, from https://www.dominicanajournal.org/wp-content/files/old-journal-archive/vol14/no4/dominicanav14n4somedominicaniconography.pdf

De Crayer, G. (n.d.). St. Dominic of Guzman. Museo Del Prado. Retrieved August 8, 2021, from https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/art-work/saint-dominic-of-guzman/e931d34d-b93c-431b-84cb-cd9772a31ead

Dominican Laity - The Third Order of St. Dominic - New England Region. (n.d.). Dominicans and the Rosary . Retrieved from Dominican Laity - The Third Order of St. Dominic - New England Region The Rosary - : https://www.opne.org/rosary.htm

Ordo Praedicatorum. (2021, August 8). St. Dominic. Retrieved from Ordo Praedicatorum: https://www.op.org/st-dominic/

The Birth of Saint Dominic. (n.d.). Retrieved August 8, 2021, from Dominican Friars Foundation: https://dominicanfriars.org/birth-st-dominic/

Our sincerest thank to the Archivo de la Universidad de Santo Tomas