Statues should not be that difficult to identify. If it is not well known in the parish or of there is not some sort of name plate, blue prints will help. “Shrine to Saint Clare” it would read. In any event it is unlikely there will be an unknown saint in your parish. If there is and there are no “old-time” parishioners who can be contacted for an interview, a book on symbolism or saints will be needed to help you do research. A book on symbolism would be the best place to start since you could indentify objects with the statue and see to whom they are commonly attributed.
In any event, why a statue is who it represents is far more interesting than just that a statue represents who it represents. In this way not only do you increase the interest of your research, you enable others to recognize the same saint elsewhere. For example color is important. Martyrs always where red. This will people narrow down a statue that they see elsewhere. “Red. I read in my parish handbook that martyrs where red. At least we know that this is a martyr.” Joseph almost always where a yellowish gold, sometimes with some purple added. At different points in Jesus’ ministry (if the artist knows what he is doing) he might wear different colors. (White with a god sash is teaching, red is Passion . . .)
The clothing is important. Of course it will tell you right away if the person was clergy or religious or lay or royalty . . . Sometimes it will give you a country with which to identify them. It will also provide an opportunity to discuss some of the various clothing. Why do bishops carry a crosier – what does it mean – where does it come from – does it mean something different when it is facing out or in . . .”
Objects are very important. So is there location. Objects at the feet often mean something that has been overcome. Instruments of Christ’s Passion are often at the feet of the resurrected Christ. The dragon (devil) is at the feet of Saint Michael or Saint George. Things in the hand are objects for which the saint is well known. Martyrs might hold the instrument of their torture (giving you the opportunity to tell their story) or a church building (showing that they built a particular church or helped build up the Church in general . . .)
On rare occasions where the saint is looking is of importance. At our cathedral St. John holds a pen and book in his hands as his gaze turns toward a wall on which is painted the visions of the Book of Revelations which he wrote. But such innovation is rare since most statues are bought “off the rack.”
So far, between the windows and the statues you begin to see why Catholic Churches are called catechisms in stone for they are very full of information about the faith and the life of the Church.