Saint Barnabas: The Iconography
This saint's attribute is a book or scroll, but unfortunately many other saints are depicted with books in hand so he is not easy to identify. In the legends he was put to death by fire, so the image at right uses a flame along with a scroll to identify him.

The reason for the book or scroll is that legends going back to the 5th century claim that St. Barnabas cured sick people in Cyprus by laying a copy of Matthew's gospel on them.1

In the Acts of the Apostles Barnabas is a companion of St. Paul, so we see them together in some narrative images. Ambrosius Francken painted the scene in Acts where the two are "set apart" by the Holy Spirit. Especially popular is the episode in which the people of Lystra mistake the two for gods come to earth, as in the second picture on the right.

Prepared in 2015 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University


Anonymous, St. Barnabas, 18th century. The fire on his hand most likely refers to the manner of his death. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Paul and Barnabas mistaken for gods: From the 19th-century fresco cycle in St. Paul Outside the Walls, Rome. (See the description page.)

Guercino, The Martyrdom of St. Barnabas, 17th century. The saint is dragged to the pyre where he will be martyred. (See the description page.)




1 In the Golden Legend "he held the book over sick people and thus, by the power of God, cured many" (Ryan, I, 321). Caxton's translation of the Legend omits this detail. In the Early South English Legendary (28) it is a holy man named Timon who is thus cured. In the 5th-century Acts of Barnabas Timon is cured after Barnabas "called upon the name of the Lord Jesus." Only afterwards did the saint receive from St. Matthew the book of "miracles and doctrines" that "made a cure of their sufferings" whenever he laid it upon sick people. See the translated Acts of Barnabas in Schaff or the Acta Sanctorum (June vol. 2, 431-36) for the Latin and Greek.