Saint Timothy: The Iconography

In Ephesus, St. Timothy. He was a disciple of blessed Paul the Apostle, who ordained him bishop of Ephesus. There he confuted the worshipers of Diana and suffered many torments for Christ. He was stoned and shortly afterwards went to sleep in the Lord. – Roman Martyrology for January 24

Most early and medieval texts concerning St. Timothy say he was martyred in Ephesus, where as that city's first bishop he had denounced a local festival called the Katagogion. The pagan participants would attack men and women indiscriminately with cudgels, often leaving them dead. Angered by this denunciation, the mob attacked Timothy with cudgels and stones and left him for dead. Christians took him to a nearby mountain and tried to revive him, but they were unsuccessful and buried him there. Later his body was translated to Constantinople. The picture above presents the story, and the one on the right portrays the saint with a cudgel as his attribute.

Like the one on the right, many images of St. Timothy have him a beardless youth. St. Paul had called him "my beloved and faithful son in the Lord" in I Corinthians 4:17, took him on his journeys, and wrote the letters I and II Timothy to advise him about his leadership of the church in Ephesus. Paul never calls him a "bishop" or "presbyter," but some portraits nevertheless put him in a chasuble, the vestment worn by medieval priests at Mass, as in the second picture at right.

There is a secondary tradition which has Timothy martyred in Rome. The Golden Legend's very brief notice of the saint says he was tortured there during the reign of Nero. Quicklime was poured into his open wounds, but two angels directed his gaze to Heaven, where he saw Jesus offering him a golden crown.

A related tradition in Rome claims that Paul baptized Timothy in Rome in the home of the latter's father, St. Pudens. That home became a church dedicated to St. Pudenziana, who the tradition claims was Pudens' daughter and the sister of Timothy and two other Roman saints, Novatus and Praxedes. This story was related to us by a seminarian in the church, and is the basis for paintings there of St. Paul baptizing and ordaining Timothy and Timothy casting his gaze to Heaven.

The Roman traditions are not supported by anything in scripture or in the standard vitae by "Polycrates" and Simeon Metaphrastes, nor even the Roman Martyrology.1

The third picture at right is a fresco of "S. Tymotheus" in St. Paul Outside the Walls. Considering the beard, tonsure, and non-liturgical garb, this may be another St. Timothy, perhaps the one whose martyrdom in the 4th century is narrated in Golden Legend #52.

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

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SHOWN ABOVE

Byzantine illumination, 11th century. See description page.

OTHER IMAGES

St. Timothy with the cudgel as his attribute – See description page

16th-century fresco – See description page

5th-century fresco – See description page

DATES

  • Traditionally celebrated on January 24 in the Roman Calendar, changed to January 26 in 1969
  • In the East, celebrated on January 22

ALSO SEE

HAGIOGRAPHY

NOTES

1 Acta Sanctorum, January vol. 2, 562-69.