(b. 1541, Candia, d. 1614, Toledo)

Apostle St Simon

Oil on canvas, 97 x 77 cm
Museo de El Greco, Toledo

Apostle St Simon is called the Zealot in both the Gospel according to St Luke (6:15) and in Acts (1:13). This name, transcribed from the Greek, is a translation of the Aramaic gan'anai, signifying the apostle's membership of an extremely orthodox Jewish sect. Because he came from Cana, he is also known as the Canaanite or Cananaean. Like the other apostles, after Pentecost Simon vanished from view. Most or less trustworthy legends place his missionary work in Egypt. According to a sixth-century apocryphal tradition, he preached the Gospel in Persia with Jude (Judas Thaddaeus), where they were both martyred. Found guilty of overturning statues of the idols at the end of an argument with pagan priests and magicians, their throats were cut. According to another version, Simon was sawn in two, like the prophet Isaiah.

Apostle St Simon in Art

A twelfth-century relief designates Simon by the inscription, Cananaeus (cloister at Moissac). In numerous depictions, Simon is linked with Jude (Luis Borrassa, St Clare Altarpiece, 1414, Museum, Vich, Spain). The most common scenes including both apostles are the toppling of the idols (from which, according to the Golden Legend, emerge two "naked and black" Ethiopians) and their martyrdom. Simon was tied to a wheel while two executioners cut through his chest with a bucksaw (capital, Collegiate Church at St Aubin, Guérande, twelfth century). In the sixteenth century, Dürer shows Simon carrying a saw (engraving, 1523, Bibliothéque Nationale, Paris).

Before the thirteenth century, the Apostle is shown holding a scroll or a book. The saw appears as a specific attribute only later, becoming predominant by the 1400s. In the seventeenth century, however, Simon the Zealot is occasionally shown leafing through a book.

Attributes: Book. Saw (since the fifteenth century). Sword or spear (of martyrdom, very rare).