Saint Matthias: The Iconography
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 (image). 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 a book and an axe or spear, as in the first image at right, and sometimes with a scroll, as in the next two 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 detail from the upper right corner of Duccio di Buoninsegna's Maesta, 1308-11 (See description page)

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




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