Saint Simon: The Iconography

In Persia, the natal day Not his birthday but the day he died and was "born again" into Heaven of the blessed Apostles Simon the Chananean and Thaddeus called Judas. Simon preached the Gospel in Egypt, Thaddeus in Mesopotamia. Then they both went to Persia, where they were martyred because they had brought a vast multitude to Christ. – Roman Martyrology for October 28

In most portraits St. Simon's attribute is a bucksaw, as at right. This appears to be based on the Golden Legend's statement that he and his brother Jude were "butchered" by pagan priests.1 In medieval times a bucksaw was used to cut large animals into pieces, as in this illustration from a 15th-century manuscript.

The bucksaw is also an attribute of St. Thyrsus, and in rare cases it can be an attribute of the prophet Isaiah, so that one may need to be guided by context. This image of Isaiah with a bucksaw, for example, is a detail from a triptych in which the central panel is flanked by portraits of the two major prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah.

In England, Simon's attribute can be a boat. Farmer (399) cites examples from East Anglia, and another example is in the Vatican. The boat probably refers to versions of Simon's story in which he traveled "across the Ocean to the islands called Britain."2

In the Legend Simon and his brother arrive in Samir, in Persia, and demons inside the city's idols cry out in protest. Simon and Jude command the demons to come out and destroy the idols themselves. This they do, to the horror of the pagan priests, who rush at the apostles and hack them to pieces. In the portraits this is signified by the bucksaw but in narrative images the priests use a variety of weapons, as in the second picture at right and in this example.

The Legend dismisses an alternative version of Simon's death in which he is crucified in Jerusalem on the orders of a consul named Atticus. In an unusual combination of the two versions a fresco in Brazil pictures three men tying the saint to a cross while two others cut him in half with a bucksaw.

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

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Statue in the Lateran Cathedral (See description page)


The priests attack Simon and Jude. (See the description page.)

DATES

  • Feast day: October 28
  • The alternative version mentioned above says Simon was crucified during the reign of Trajan (98-117), when Simon was 120 years old.

NAMES

  • Sometimes called Simon the Canaanean or Canaanite

HAGIOGRAPHY

ALSO SEE

NOTES

1 In the Latin the verb for what the priests did is trucidarunt (Graesse, 710), which is defined in Lewis and Short as "to cut to pieces, slaughter, butcher." That dictionary's first example is cavete neu capti sicut pecora trucidemini, which means "beware lest you be captured and butchered like cattle."

2 Acta Sanctorum, October vol. 12, 425-26.