The candle in the icon that I'm using for my liturgical year posts was taken, as far as I'm able to remember, in the Cathedral of Seville, Spain.
I didn't grow up learning about saints. I couldn't tell you when I learned about them, it was probably another of those things that one eventually just knows without being able to point to a specific book or place/time where the knowledge was acquired.
But, I can pin down my first interest in them. I was 17, and for Thanksgiving, my parents took my whole family over to Europe. We meandered down from Switzerland to France dipping into Italy and Monaco along the way. Once in Paris, I could have spent every waking moment in the Louvre.
I was wildly, passionately, and deeply into my first (and, now that I think about it, longest) phase with an ancient culture, Egypt. (This started at 9 and continued until now, unlike other cultures that came in up to 10 years later for me.) I didn't want to spend any time with the European art, but luckily, my mum realized that one day I'd be glad to have seen it, so in we went. There were several pieces she wanted to point out to us specifically, but what I noticed was multiple paintings of a young man with arrows sticking out of him.
What struck me as odd was that in most of them, he didn't seem that bothered. See here
for examples (not all are from the Louvre, fyi).
As I didn't know his story, or even that he was a saint, this was...well, just...odd. Cause, I'd be screaming. Not gazing up at the sky like I'm waiting for the bus.
Reading the labels for the various paintings, some additional info from mum, and some pouring through encyclopedias back home showed me that this is how St. Sebastian is almost always shown, with an arrow (or 20) poking out of him. Sometimes he's alone tied to a pillar or tree, sometimes we see St. Irene with him pulling out the arrows.
What strikes me about this is that while I didn't know who St. Sebastian was, any medieval European could have told me. For me, St. Sebastian was the hook that pulled me into the world of saintly iconography. One can almost always identify any unlabelled saint in painting or stained glass by what they are holding or what's around them. Or, with Sebastian, what's protruding from between their ribs. St. Catherine, my namesake, is shown either with a spiked wheel, on which they attempted to kill her, or holding a sword which actually did her in. St. Paul also holds a sword often. St. Peter brandishes keys. St. George has his dragon, St. Joseph has lilies, St. Christopher has Christ on his shoulder (though, that one goes a bit further in that Christopher is from Christo+pheros=Christ carrying). It's a quick way to identify someone, especially to an illiterate population.
I'm by no means an expert here, and am still learning the various emblems of the myriads of saints. But, sometimes knowing these symbols gives a little 'a-ha' moment in life. And honestly people, those moments are pretty much what I live for.