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18.10.07

Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist

October 18 is the feast day of St. Luke the Evangelist, by tradition the author of the Gospel that bears his name (in my opinion, the most beautiful and poetic of the four) and of the Acts of the Apostles. From the New Testament we can infer that Luke was a Greek and a Gentile, possibly born into slavery, a background that seems to inform his Gospel, with its focus on the poor and the Gentiles. He seems to have been a close associate of St. Paul, who called him "Luke, the beloved physician" (Colossians 4:14) and said that Luke was the only friend who stayed near him during his imprisonment in Rome ("Only Luke is with me," 2 Timothy 4:11).

He is officially the patron of doctors and surgeons, but another important tradition, impossible to prove and highly unlikely, is that later icons of Mary were based on portraits painted by St. Luke in the first century. For that reason, painting guilds often took the name of St. Luke and claimed him as their patron. If Luke was not depicted writing his Gospel or with his evangelist symbol, the ox, he was shown painting a portrait of the Virgin. Especially in the self-referential Renaissance, he was identified by the implements of the painters painting him.

Photo image:
Rogier van der Weyden, St. Luke Drawing a Portrait of the Madonna (c. 1435), Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (with thanks to the Web Gallery of Art)

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