The Symbolism of the Christian Virtues


All of the Christian Virtues have their associated symbolism. 


The Symbolism of the Three Theological Virtues

The Three Theological Virtues are often depicted in art as young women. The symbols most often associated with them are:

  • Faith - cross, pointing upward, staff and chalice, lamp, candle
  • Hope - anchor, harp, flaming brand, palm
  • Charity/Love - flaming heart, with children, gathering fruit


They are also associated with rungs on the "Ladder of Jacob" (see Genesis 28:10-22) and are here represented by the letters: F, H and C  below (Note: the F is a little difficult to see).



The Symbolism of the Four Cardinal Virtues

The Cardinal Virtues are often depicted as female allegorical figures and were a popular subject for sculpture. The attributes and names of these figures may vary according to local tradition.

In many churches and in Christian artwork the Cardinal Virtues are depicted with symbolic items:

  • Temperance (Restraint) – wheel, bridle and reins, vegetables and fish, cup, water and wine in two jugs
  • Fortitude (Courage) – armor, club, with a lion, palm, tower, yoke, broken column
  • Prudence – book, scroll, mirror (sometimes fighting or controlling a serpent, lizard or dragon)
  • Justice – sword, balance and scales, crown


Compare the Cardinal Virtues as depicted on the tomb of Pope Clement II (1005 – 1047) at Bamberg Cathedral in Germany:


And then compare these 19th Century French Tarot plates: