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Many saints are often depicted holding a book or some other object. However, I have noticed that there are quite a few that have unusual hand gestures. Why is this?

Augustine of Hippo

Index finger, middle finger, and ring finger together, other fingers spread out

Augustine of Hippo

Ignatius of Antioch

Ring finger and pinky against thumb

Ignatius of Antioch

Justin Martyr

Index finger against thumb, middle finger extended

I'm going to assume that the modern vulgar meaning for this gesture was not intended.

Justin Martyr

Cyril of Jerusalem

Index and middle fingers crossed, ring finger against thumb

Cyril of Jerusalem

John Chrysostom

Ring finger against thumb, back perspective

John Chrysostom

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    @curiousdannii Thanks for sharing that. That hand gesture is similar (but not identical) to the one used for Ignatius of Antioch above, and the rest aren't covered by that question. So I don't think that this is a duplicate. – Thunderforge Jan 18 '17 at 8:03
  • Andrew's answer seems to cover them all quite well: the Ignatius, Cyril of Jerusalem and John Chrysostom are all the Greek/Eastern, while the Justin Martyr image is by a French artist and so likely following the Catholic custom. It's not clear that Augustine's is meant to be a gesture - Justus van Gent often seems to have painted hands with separate pinkies. – curiousdannii Jan 18 '17 at 8:11
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    I do not believe this is a duplicate question to this one. It may be similar , but not the same. This question asks about the hand gestures of saints not Christ. I have seen other saints images as those depicted here by St Augustine and the right hand of St Cyril of Jerusalem. It would be good to get some nice answers on this. – Ken Graham Jan 18 '17 at 11:59
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    @curiousdannii Even though an answer goes above and beyond, that doesn't make the question a duplicate. As Ken indicates, that question is about Christ (and a specific hand gesture), whereas this question is about saints. We don't close every question on the the nativity as a duplicate just because they all have the same Bible verses in their answer. – Thunderforge Jan 18 '17 at 14:51
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Wordpress: Ancient Greek and Roman orators used an established series of hand gestures when speaking. Since some of the oldest Orthodox statuary originated in Rome, it is likely their hand gestures were adapted from those of the Greek and Roman works when depicting religious figures to emphasize the message the painter or sculptor wished to convey. Since orators of the time often raised their hand when speaking to assert authority, paintings and statues of Jesus and the saints might have adapted this to convey authority and a blessing. We see this today when the Pope blesses a crowd of the faithful.

Gesture of the Orator: Illustrations of various hand gestures from antiquity with explanation of their meaning.

Roman & Greek sculptures: Photos showing hand gestures.

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The answer is partially in your question. The life of a Christian is very unusual, at least it is supposed to be. Our lives have to be oriented toward the ultimate truth who is God. So, for a Saint, who embodies in some very particular way that life, it is a normal to representing them in postures that are also pointing towards that reality. Generally they are portrayed pointing up, looking up, eyes up, in discomfort here below but with sight above and with peace on their face or eyes. Three fingers pointing to the Trinity, two fingers touching meaning unity, etc. It is a way an artist can depict the story of that saint and how his/her life pointed and was oriented towards God.

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Of the images depicted, three (Justin Martyr, Cyril, and John Chrysostom) are icons (or possibly frescoes) and the other two are free-form art works.

I can't speak to the art works, but in the icons the saints are spelling out the abbreviated name of Christ, in the form of either the first and last letters of "Jesus" (IHCOYC in archaic Greek capitals) or of "Christos" (XPICTOC). Ignatius appears to be spelling out "IC", while Cyril appears to be spelling out "XC". It's not clear which of the two John Chrysostom is spelling.

This feature can be found in many Byzantine-style icons of Christ, teachers, hierarchs and angels.

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The saints don't have specific blessings gestures, nor are saints always depicted with gestures. Rather, three of your five images show interpretations of the famous "IC XC" gesture of Christ Pantocrator.

The Justin Martyr and Augustine of Hippo images either do not represent blessings at all, or are unusual blessings whose meaning I could not find.

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