Matthew, one of the Evangelists, who wrote the books of the four Gospels. Each Apostle is depicted with their particular attribute or emblem seen in Ezekiel’s vision. These associations are quite ancient in Christian art. Ezekiel 1:5,10 states that “...out of the midst came the likeness of four living creatures...as for the likeness of their faces, those four had the face of a man, the face of a lion...the face of an ox...and the face of an eagle.”
Matthew is shown holding a winged man in reference to his account of the Incarnation of Christ. This cherub with a human face symbolizes a record of the human ancestry of Christ. Matthew was a tax collector before becoming a disciple of Christ. Matthew wrote his Gospel in Judea before he was martyred in Ethiopia with an axe.
Mark holds his attribute, the winged lion. Wings symbolize divine mission and are associated with the emblems of all four evangelists. The lion depicts strength and courage, as well as signifying Jesus, the Lion of Judah. A legend stated that lions are born dead until revived three days after birth, thus the association with the Resurrection. Mark is said to have removed a painful thorn from a lion’s paw earning him a faithful friend.
Mark’s Gospel is considered the earliest in existence. St. Mark’s city, Venice, Italy is protected by the symbol of a lion. Mark was martyred in Alexandria, Egypt.
St. Luke holds a winged ox, the symbol of patience and strength. The ox and ass appear together in Nativity scenes and is a sacrificial animal of the Jews. Thus the symbol of Christ as the ox, the true sacrifice, bearing a yoke for the good of others. Luke wrote much about the sacrificial aspects of Christ Jesus. Luke wrote the book of Acts and tradition says that he was a painter who made many converts to the faith by showing his work. Luke was crucified in Greece.
St. John holds his attribute the eagle, a symbol of strength and of the Resurrection. An early belief stated that the eagle grew new plumage and regains its youth by flying near the sun and then plunging into the waters. The eagle represents new life at the baptismal font. Also a symbol of generosity, the eagle leaves half its prey for birds who follow. The eagle also symbolizes the gospels and lecterns used to read the Gospels were traditionally in the form of a winged eagle.
St. John founded the Seven Churches mentioned in Revelation, which he wrote on the island of Patmos. He died a natural death at Ephesus, Turkey.