The image most associated with St. Anthony is that of a young friar holding the Baby Jesus and a lily. There are, however, other symbols associated with him, such as the bread or the book.
Let us look at their meaning.
The lily represents his purity and his lifelong struggle against the devil.
Image: Anthony with the book and the lily, XVI sec., Padova, Chiesa di san Daniele - photo by Giorgio Deganello (MSA Archive)
The Christ Child
The Christ Child (or Baby Jesus) recalls his vision at Camposampiero. It also highlights his love for the humanity of Christ and his intimacy with God.
Image: St. Anthony with the Baby Gesus and angels, Murillo Bartolom. Esteban, XVII sec., Seville, Museo de Bellas Artes (MSA Archive)
His young age recalls his idealistic, pure and good character, which welcomed everyone.
Image: St. Anthony with the Baby Gesus and the lily, Ermanno Stroiffi, XVII sec., Venezia, Chiesa di Santa Maria Formosa (MSA Archive)
Bread recalls the Saint’s charity towards the poor. This image is obviously connected with the work "Bread for the poor of St. Anthony", an initiative which is always alive and active. The image is also linked to Caritas Antoniana (St Anthony’s Charities), an organisation which brings the Saint’s solidarity throughout the world.
Image: St. Anthony with the Baby Gesus and angels, bread, madonna Povertà and the miracle of the fish, Andrea Trebbi, 2005, Noventa Padovana, Villaggio S. Antonio - photo by Giuseppe Rampazzo (MSA Archive)
The oldest image, and the one which is closest to historical reality, is that of the Saint with a book in his hand. The book symbolises his knowledge, his teaching and his preaching, which were always inspired by the book “par excellence”: the Bible.
Image: St. Anthony with the book, Scuola giottesca, 1326, Basilica del Santo, presbitety, Arco della Cantoria - photo by Giuseppe Rampazzo (MSA Archive)
The Franciscan habit (brown or black) recalls his membership of the Franciscan order.
Image: Madonna with Baby Jesus and Saints, Vittore Carpaccio, 1518, Padova, Museo antoniano - photo by Nicola Berti (MSA Archive)
Sometimes the Saint is represented with a flame in his hand, which highlights his love for God and humanity.
Image: St. Anthony's icon, Lia Galdiolo,1995, Basilica del Santo - photo by Giorgio Deganello (MSA Archive)