Dierick Bouts: The Martyrdom of Saint Erasmus (1458)

(St. Peter's Church, Leuven, Belgium)

An altarpiece from the early Dutch painter Dieric Bouts (1415-1475). The central panel shows the martyrdom of Saint Erasmus of Formia (also known as Saint Elmo). Saint Erasmus was a bishop of Formium, Italy in the 3rd century. Little is known from his life but according to the legends he was eventually killed during the persecutions against Christians under the Roman emperor Diocletian (284-305). After several unsuccessful attempts to kill him (thrown in jail, rolled in a barrel full of protruding spikes, coated with pitch and set alight etc which he all survived, he eventually was killed by having his belly slit open and his intestines wound around a windlass (as shown here). Saint Erasmus is the patron saint of sailors, intestinal ailments and diseases, cramps and the pain of women in labor. The other panels show 2 other patron saints: Saint Jerome (left, cardinal with lion) and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (right, Abbot with a chained devil). Painting from 1458.