The decoration of the columns, which went largely unnoticed until 1891 when it was studied by Father Germer-Durant, represents one of the most interesting elements of the interior decoration.
It is difficult to discern any real continuity or organic unity in the iconography within the church. The technique used was encaustic (“hot wax”), a manner of painting in which pigments mixed with heated wax are applied to a surface.
Both the hands of the artists and the period in which the works were produced are different, leading one to think that they were requested by individual clients from different painters. There is no doubt that all of the images date from the Crusader period, a time of growing division between the Eastern and Western Churches. This is also confirmed by the presence of saints from both the Eastern and Western traditions (see the photo gallery).
The individual panels, placed on all the columns of the nave and the first row of columns to the south, are surrounded by a red and whitish-colored band, while the figures of the saints stand out from the dark blue background. Each saint has his own name written in an ornamental scroll above or placed in his hands. The function of these paintings was described by the pilgrim Arculf who attested to the custom of celebrating masses near the columns on the day of the Saint. For the clerics of those times, the painted columns served to metaphorically invoke the presence of the Saints in the place.
There is a widespread belief, today as well as in those days, that the Saints represent those who support the weight of the Church: the pictures of the Saints on the columns transmit this concept in a simple and forceful manner to all of the faithful who visit the church. We can define these paintings as “votive frescoes”, since it is very likely that they served as a testimonial of having carried out a pilgrimage.
In addition, the patrons of the works were clearly aware that the works contributed to the embellishment of the church.