The artwork and painting in the chapel tell the story of our Catholic Faith in symbolic form. This symbolism further enhances the religious significance of the edifice which houses the relics of our ancestors in Christianity. The beautiful hand-carved wooden Stations of the Cross depict Christ’s way of salvation to each and every one of us. Saint Anthony Chapel is a repository of religious and cultural art.
Standing in the sanctuary and facing the glass-encased reliquaries, we have on the ceiling, to the right of the reliquaries, the papal emblem with its tiara or triple papal crown. The crozier, or Bishop's staff, is depicted and is symbolic of the Pope as Bishop of Rome. The triple cross represents the fullness of the papal powers. Keys are shown which are symbolic of the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Again facing the glass-encased reliquaries, on the ceiling, to the left of the reliquaries, we have the episcopal emblem. The miter is symbolic of the bishop’s authority. The two horns of the miter are an allusion to the two rays of light that came forth from the head of Moses at the time he received the Ten Commandments. The two horns are also symbolic of the Old and New Testaments. The stole is a sign of priestly dignity and power, symbolizing the yoke of Christ and the Christian duty of working loyally for His kingdom, and the hope of immortality. The crozier is symbolic of the bishop’s authority and power in his own diocese.
The palm branches indicate that many popes have been martyrs, and the crown represents the fact that many popes have attained sainthood. All that is here signifies victory over sin and death.
Standing between the arch and the sanctuary and facing the right wall we see the richly decorated symbolic representation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the phrase “Sancta Maria, intercede pro nobis.” It has gold leaf squares Containing crosses. Fleurs-de-lys, symbol of the Holy Trinity and the Blessed Virgin, surround the Sancta Maria area. The Fleur-de-lys was derived from the Madonna lily.
A rose, either white or pink, is a common symbol of Our Lady. The usual form is that of a heraldic rose, as seen in the circles running the length of the walls of the chapel. In Christian symbolism, the red rose is a symbol of martyrdom, while the white rose is a symbol of purity. St. Ambrose once wrote that the rose grew in Paradise without thorns. Only after the fall of man did the rose take on its thorns to remind man of the sin he had committed and of his fall from grace, while its fragrance and beauty continued to mind him of the splendor of Paradise. It is probably because of this story that Virgin Mary is called “a rose without thorns,” since she was exempt from original sin.
Again facing the right wall we have at the base of the first pillar the CHI RHO (XP) symbol. This is among the oldest of the monograms of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is formed from the first two letters of the word “Christ” as it is spelled in the Greek language. Christ’s name was spelled XPICTOC in ancient Greek capital letters. A horizontal line over the two letters is the sign of an abbreviation.
At the base of the second pillar on the right, we have IHS. This symbol can be interpreted as the first three letters of the name Jesus in Greek. Alternately, it has been interpreted as an abbreviation of the Latin phrase, “In Hoc Signo (vinces),” as a reminder of the vision of Constantine in which he saw a cross in the sky together with the words “In this sign you shall conquer.”
The base of the third pillar has a Patonce cross, a beautiful form of the cross that has been used by decorators and needleworkers down through the ages.
On the ceiling beginning at the arch, we have the Eye of God in a triangle. The Eye represents the omniscience of God. The eye within the triangle, surrounded by a circle and radiating rays of light, is used to suggest the infinite holiness of the Triune God. The many scriptural references to the eye of God have led to the use of the eye to symbolize the all-knowing and ever-present God.
There is an unusual painting of a pelican above St. Anthony’s altar. The pelican, according to legend, has the greatest love of all creatures for its young, because when there is no food it pierces its breast to feed them with its own blood. This legend has come to symbolize Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, because of His love for all humanity, and also symbolizes the Holy Eucharist, in which Christ feeds us with his own body and blood.
Above the center of the arch is a picture of a dove. The use of a dove in Christian art is symbolic of the Holy Spirit.
On the left, facing the arch is a Lamb of God carrying the banner of victory, which comes from Revelation 5,12: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and praise!”
On the ceiling of the original section of the chapel, we have blue banners emblazoned with the names of the four evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The same theme is carried out on the ceiling of the later addition.
Matthew is shown as a Cherub, in human likeness, because he begins his Gospel by tracing the human descent of Our Lord.
Mark is depicted as a winged lion. It was Mark who opened his Gospel by describing John the Baptizer, as he voice of one crying in the wilderness. Mark also dwells upon the Resurrection of Christ and places emphasis on the royal dignity of Christ.
Luke appears as a winged ox because of his emphasis on the sacrificial aspect of Christ’s atonement as well as His divine priesthood.
John is portrayed as the winged eagle because John soared to great heights in his contemplation of the divine nature of our Savior.