The Patron Saint of Surgery – The Story Behind St. Luke the Evangelist

Most of the writers of the New Testament were disciples of Jesus Christ or were apostles specifically anointed by Jesus’ direct divine ordination for the work. The most notable and prolific author of the New Testament was the apostle Paul, who originally persecuted the church but was later converted and became one of its fiercest champions.

Other writers included Peter, John, and Matthew, who were among the original twelve disciples that served with Jesus throughout His earthly ministry. All three of these men have become attached to gospel accounts through direct or indirect authorship, and are regarded as part of the official canon of the Christian Bible.

The other gospel writer found in the New Testament was St. Luke the Evangelist, who wrote the books of Luke and Acts. He has also come to be regarded as the patron saint of surgery.

About St. Luke the Evangelist

Luke is best known as the writer of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. He presents his account as a thorough and detailed study of the life of Christ in Luke 1:1-4, which says, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” He used the firsthand experiences of others who had seen, touched, talked to, and walked with Jesus in order to compile his complete Gospel account.

Luke presents the most thorough biography of the person of Jesus Christ. His is the only Gospel that includes the birth of His cousin, John the Baptist, and the full picture of Mary being chosen to bear the Christ, her pregnancy and miraculous birth, and His dedication at the temple in Jerusalem. Luke also includes a more complete genealogy than his counterpart Matthew, although both draw from Old Testament sources; but where Matthew’s begins with Abraham, Luke traces Jesus’ family history all the way back beyond Abraham to Noah and Adam himself, then to God.

Luke is believed to have been born in Antioch, an important port city in Syria and the cultural center of the region that included Syria, Samaria, and Judea. There is no clear telling of how Luke came to become a Christian: he may have been a Gentile that was converted to Judaism, or he may have been a Hellenized Jew (combining Judaism with elements of Greek culture). At some point, he converted to Christianity and became a traveling companion of the apostle Paul.

We have direct evidence from this through the biblical accounts attributed to Luke: a shift from a third-person perspective to a first-person perspective signifies times when Luke accompanied Paul on his famous missionary journeys. He is also mentioned by name in Paul’s letters to the Colossians, Timothy, and Philemon; it is in these references that we also get our knowledge of Luke as a physician, or doctor (Colossians 4:14 says, “Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas.”). By these references, we can infer that Luke was present with Paul during the end of Paul’s ministry in Rome.

Another part of Luke’s ministry may have begun during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Many early church fathers list Luke as members of the seventy disciples sent out by Jesus in pairs to minister throughout the villages and towns of Judea. Luke’s Gospel is the only account that mentions this missionary journey of Jesus’ followers, and so Luke is believed to be included in their number due to his supposed firsthand experience.

Luke could have also been a Gentile or someone who converted to faith in Christ outside of natural-born Judaism. Some scholars believe this to be the case because of his reference to Jesus praising the faith of Gentiles and highlighting stories that make specific mention on non-Jewish individuals. However, Luke also had a clear understanding of Jewish history through his multiple references to Old Testament prophecies and his self-described “orderly account” of “all things” relevant to the life and ministry of Jesus.

Luke has been attributed as the author of the gospel of Luke and of Acts, given as a two-part work, from the earliest church historians; these two books make up a larger percentage of the New Testament than the combined works of any other single author. This has been confirmed by archaeological discoveries and recorded history from other early church historians, who have corroborated Luke’s authorship as early as the year 170.

Several accounts exist of how and when Luke died, but most believe that he died at the age of 84 in Greece shortly after writing his Gospel account. He had remained with Paul until he was martyred in Rome, then he traveled to Greece where he wrote his Gospel account. He was buried in Thebes.

As one of the authors of the four canonical Gospel accounts, Luke is often portrayed in person or through symbolism with the other three Gospel authors in classical artwork, particularly in illuminated (illustrated) copies of the Bible. Many covers and cover pages feature the four Gospel writers surrounding a depiction of Christ or some other biblical scene, either as human beings with pen and scroll in hand or through images or icons associated with each author. Luke is often portrayed as a bull or ox, and the image of that animal is usually closely associated with him in artistic depictions.

Since the 8th century, Catholic tradition state that Luke was the first painter of icons. Icons are sacred images, usually in the form of paintings, which are used in religious devotion, and so transcend traditional artwork in reverence and quality. Some of those earliest works have been lost over time, but some still remain and are venerated as his autographed works. As such, St. Luke is often depicted as a painter. There is a church in India with ties to the apostle Thomas who claims to have an original icon of Mary and Jesus painted by Luke himself, and the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome holds another sacred portrait ascribed to him.

Relics related to St. Luke were originally purchased by a Serbian ruler in the 15th century but were returned to Italy in the 1990s. His body now resides in Padua, Italy; his skull can be found in Prague, and a single rib remains at his tomb in Thebes.

As one of the original four Gospel writers, and having such a close association with the original twelve disciples, Luke was one of the first group of individuals to become canonized by the Catholic Church. He is also the patron saint of physicians and surgeons, due to his medical background and training as presented in Scripture. He is also the patron saint of artists, due to the legend that he was the original painter of icons. Artists of all kinds have claimed St. Luke as their patron saint over time, including bookbinders, glassmakers, goldsmiths, lace workers, and painters. Interestingly, he is also the patron saint of bachelors (men who have not yet married).


Luke was a physician by trade, but he became much more when it came to the history of the earliest Christian churches. He was a dedicated historian who recorded and compiled a very detailed account of the life of Christ, capturing many of the most important moments in His ministry that have been beloved by believers for centuries. He was a traveling companion for Paul the apostle throughout many of his travels and remained as one of Paul’s final supporters and friends during the last days of his life (this is where Luke likely engaged his medical skills in caring for Paul). And through his ministry with Paul, Luke also saw the explosive growth of the church itself, contributing to the missionary trips that founded churches across the Roman Empire.

Today, the church honors Luke for his authorship of a beloved Gospel, and we also recognize his significance as a forerunner of physicians and surgeons who also believe in and yield to the healing power of Christ.

Author Bio
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.