October 18 is the feast of Saint Luke, Evangelist, whose Gospel occupies the third place among the four Gospels in the canon of the Bible. A companion of Saint Paul and a Gentile (Luke was probably from Antioch, a Greek city in Syria), Saint Luke most likely never met Christ. Yet his Gospel is not only the longest of the four, but in many ways the most vivid, filled with miracles and parables found in none of the others. His mastery of Greek allows him to paint with words, and the most common artistic interpretations of the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity of Christ, the Presentation, and the Finding in the Temple—that is, the five Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary—are drawn from his descriptions.
Small wonder, then, that Saint Luke not only is the patron saint of artists but is thought to have been an artist himself. Pious tradition tells us that he painted the first icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the top of the Holy Family's dinner table (and Polish tradition says that that icon is the one that came to be known as Poland's Black Madonna, Our Lady of Czestochowa).
The Acts of the Apostles is also traditionally ascribed to Saint Luke, which means that he wrote more of the New Testament (by length) than any other writer. Yet he appears by name only three times, in three separate letters of Saint Paul (though he does speak of himself in the third-person plural in the Acts of the Apostles). Present at Saint Paul's martyrdom, Saint Luke is said to have been martyred himself, but little is known of the final years of his life.
While Luke's Gospel was clearly written to evangelize the Gentiles, his symbol as an evangelist is a winged bull or a calf, representing the temple sacrifice of the Jews.
(A statue of Saint Luke in the National Shrine of the Apostle Paul, Saint Paul, Minnesota. Photo © Scott P. Richert)