Saint Matthias: The Iconography

In Judea, the natal day Not his birthday but the day he died and was "born again" into Heaven of St. Matthias, Apostle. After the Ascension of the Lord he was chosen by lot by the apostles to replace Judas the traitor. He suffered martyrdom for preaching the Gospel. – Roman Martyrology for February 24

St. Matthias is the disciple who was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot, according to Acts 1:12-26. Almost half of his entry in the Golden Legend is actually about the man he replaced (Ryan 166-71), and Caxton's translation reduces what is left to a few short paragraphs.


According to the legend, St. Matthias was assigned to preach in Judea. He was tried before the High Priest and condemned to be stoned to death. When this method miraculously failed, he was killed with an axe. Voragine and the South English Legendary (but not Caxton) report a second legend in which Matthias preached in Macedonia and miraculously survived a poison that had blinded 250 other people, whom he thereupon cured. In two much earlier works the episode of the poisoning is said to have occurred in "the country of the man-eaters."1


Images often show St. Matthias with an axe (example) or a spear, as in the first image at right. Sometimes he holds a book or a scroll, as in the images at right. So far I have not encountered any images that refer to the poisoning episode. Their rarity may be due to a desire to avoid confusion with the poisoned chalice that identifies St. John the Evangelist.

Prepared in 2014 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University


With the Virgin and Child, 1472 (See description page)

a 5th-century fresco in Rome (See description page)


  • Axe or spear
  • Book or scroll


  • 1753-55: Statue with a halberd as the attribute.


  • Feast day: August 9 in the East. In the West, traditionally February 24 or 25, changed in 1969 to May 14.




1 The apocryphal Acts of Andrew and Matthias and Acts of Peter and Andrew, see above.