Simon of Cyrene

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Simon of Cyrene
Simon of Cyrene depicted in a stained glass window at St. Peter's Church in Limours, France
Venerated inChurch of the East, Coptic Orthodox Church, Coptic Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Church, and the Catholic Church
Major shrineChapel of Simon of Cyrene, Jerusalem
Feast27 February[1]
1 December[2]
AttributesCarrying Jesus’ Cross before His Crucifixion

Simon of Cyrene (Hebrew: שמעון, Standard Hebrew Šimʿon, Tiberian Hebrew Šimʿôn; Greek: Σίμων Κυρηναῖος, Simōn Kyrēnaios; died CE 33[citation needed]) was the man compelled by the Romans to carry the cross of Jesus of Nazareth as Jesus was taken to his crucifixion, according to all three Synoptic Gospels:[3][4]

And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross.[5]

He was also the father of the disciples Rufus and Alexander.

Simon is not mentioned in the Gospel of John.


Cyrene was a Greek city in the province of Cyrenaica, in eastern Libya, in northern Africa. It had a Jewish community, where 100,000 Judean Jews had been forced to settle during the reign of Ptolemy Soter (323–285 BC)[citation needed], and was an early center of Christianity.

The Cyrenian Jews had a synagogue in Jerusalem, where many went for annual feasts.[6]

Biblical accounts[edit]

Simon's act of carrying the cross, patibulum (crossbeam in Latin), for Jesus is the fifth or seventh of the Stations of the Cross.[7] Some interpret the passage as indicating that Simon was chosen because he may have shown sympathy with Jesus.[6] Others point out that the text itself says nothing, that he had no choice, and that there is no basis to consider the carrying of the cross an act of sympathetic generosity.[8]

Mark 15:21 identifies Simon as "the father of Alexander and Rufus". Tradition states that they became missionaries; the inclusion of their names may suggest that they were of some standing in the Early Christian community at Rome. Mark's Gospel, which was written for a Roman audience, seems to suggest that the audience knew who these men were. It has also been suggested that the Rufus (in Greek: Ῥοῦφον or Rhouphon) mentioned by Paul in Romans 16:13 is the son of Simon of Cyrene.[9] Some also link Simon himself with the "men of Cyrene" who preached the Gospel to the Greeks in Acts 11:20.[6] On the other hand, Simon's name alone does not prove he was Jewish, and Alexander and Rufus were both common names and may have referred to others.[8]

A burial cave in the Kidron Valley discovered in 1941 by E. L. Sukenik, belonging to Cyrenian Jews and dating before AD 70, was found to have an ossuary inscribed twice in Greek "Alexander son of Simon". It cannot, however, be certain that this refers to the same person.[10][11]

Gnostic views[edit]

According to some Gnostic traditions, Simon of Cyrene, by mistaken identity, suffered the events leading up to the crucifixion. This is the story presented in the Second Treatise of the Great Seth, although it is unclear whether Simon or another actually died on the cross.[12] This is part of a belief held by some Gnostics that Jesus was not of flesh, but only took on the appearance of flesh (see also Basilides, and Swoon hypothesis).

Basilides, in his gospel of Basilides, is reported by Irenaeus as having taught a docetic doctrine of Christ's passion. He states the teaching that Christ, in Jesus, as a wholly divine being, could not suffer bodily pain and did not die on the cross; but that the person crucified was, in fact, Simon of Cyrene.[13][14] Irenaeus quotes Basiledes:

He appeared on earth as a man and performed miracles. Thus he himself did not suffer. Rather, a certain Simon of Cyrene was compelled to carry his cross for him. It was he who was ignorantly and erroneously crucified, being transfigured by him, so that he might be thought to be Jesus. Moreover, Jesus assumed the form of Simon, and stood by laughing at them.[15] — Irenaeus, Against Heresies[16]

In popular culture[edit]

According to the visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich, Simon was a pagan. The Romans recognized he was not a Jew by his clothes and then chose him to oblige him to help Jesus carry the cross.[17]

Poet Ridgely Torrence wrote a play about him titled Simon the Cyrenian. A 1920 YWCA production of this play was directed by Dora Cole, sister of composer Bob Cole, and starred Paul Robeson.[18]

Sidney Poitier was cast as Simon of Cyrene in The Greatest Story Ever Told that was directed by George Stevens and released in 1965.[19]

In the 1979 comedy film Monty Python's Life of Brian is a vignette alluding to Simon of Cyrene. A seemingly pious and generous man offers to one of the condemned carrying a cross, "Brother, let me shoulder your burden." Upon doing so, the condemned man runs off, leaving the generous man stuck with the cross and future crucifixion.

The film The Passion of the Christ portrays Simon as a Jew who, having been forced by the Romans to carry the cross, is initially unwilling but comes to show compassion to Jesus and helps him.

French singer-poet Georges Brassens mentioned Simon in one of the verses of his famous song-poem La prière (The prayer): "Comme la croix du fils sur Simon de Cyrène" (Like the son's cross on Simon of Cyrene). The song is based on an original poem called Rosaire by French poet Francis Jammes that also contains this verse.


Both the Simon Community, and the Cyrenian movement (which provides services to homeless and other disadvantaged groups in the UK)[20] take their name from Simon of Cyrene.

Islamic Substitutionism[edit]

Most modern Islamic teachings maintain that Jesus was never crucified, but it was made to appear that Jesus was crucified and that the event took place, not confirming who exactly was on a cross, or if there was anyone on a cross at all, which does not negate the crucifixion but does not affirm Jesus's sacrifice.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gresham, John R. Jr. (2017-10-31). "St. Simon's Day: Calendar and Common Ground". The Modern Monastic Order of Saint Simon of Cyrene. Archived from the original on 2021-04-11. Retrieved 2022-03-27. This commemoration is found only in the Lectionary Paris BN gr. 282 (9th cent.).
  2. ^ "What happened to Simon of Cyrene after the crucifixion?". Aleteia. 2022-12-04. Retrieved 2023-09-09.
  3. ^ Mark 15:21–22
  4. ^ Luke 23:26
  5. ^ Matthew 27:32
  6. ^ a b c Bryant, T.A., ed. (1982). Today's Dictionary of the Bible. Minneapolis: Bethany House. p. 580. ISBN 9780871235695. LCCN 82012980. OCLC 8669410.
  7. ^ Marie, John Anthony (ed.). "Stations of the Cross - Fifth Station". Traditional Catholic. Archived from the original on 2017-05-17. Retrieved 2022-03-27.
  8. ^ a b c Carson, D. A. (1984). "Matthew". In Gaebelein, Frank E. (ed.). The Expositor's Bible Commentary. Vol. 8. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. p. 575. ISBN 0340418583. OCLC 499569314. OL 21315951M.
  9. ^ Wessel, Walter W. (1984). "Mark". In Gaebelein, Frank E. (ed.). The Expositor's Bible Commentary. Vol. 8. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. p. 778. ISBN 0340418583. OCLC 499569314. OL 21315951M.
  10. ^ Avigad, N. (1962). "A Depository of Inscribed Ossuaries in the Kidron Valley". Israel Exploration Journal. 12 (1): 1–12. ISSN 0021-2059. JSTOR 27924877. LCCN 53036113. OL 32001168M. Retrieved 2022-03-27.[8]
  11. ^ Evans, Craig A. (2006). "Excavating Caiaphas, Pilate, and Simon of Cyrene". In Charlesworth, James H. (ed.). Jesus and Archaeology. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. p. 338. ISBN 0-8028-4880-X. OCLC 1302072225. OL 7904215M. Retrieved 2022-03-27 – via Internet Archive.
  12. ^ Barnstone, Willis; Meyer, Marvin, eds. (2003). The Gnostic Bible (1st ed.). Boston: Shambhala. pp. 465, 469–470. ISBN 1570622426. LCCN 2003007148. OCLC 51984869. OL 15549334M. Retrieved 2022-03-28 – via Internet Archive.
  13. ^ Cross, Frank Leslie; Livingstone, Elizabeth A., eds. (1997). "Basilides". The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Oxford University Press. p. 168. ISBN 9780192116550. LCCN 97165294. OL 767012M. Retrieved 2022-03-28 – via Internet Archive.
  14. ^ Ehrman, Bart (2005-07-27). Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. Oxford University Press. p. 188. ISBN 9780195182491. OCLC 851818509. OL 7391542M.
  15. ^ Kelhoffer, James A. (2014). Conceptions of "Gospel" and Legitimacy in Early Christianity. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament. Vol. 324. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. p. 80. ISBN 978-3-16-152636-7. ISSN 0512-1604. LCCN 2014436189. OCLC 880553332. OL 28411459M. Retrieved 2022-03-28 – via Google Books.
  16. ^ Irenaeus (1857). Harvey, Wigan (ed.). Libros quinque adversus Haereses (in Greek and Latin). Typis academicis. Book 1, Chapter 19 – via HathiTrust. Et gentibus ipsorum autem apparuisse eum in terra hominem, et virtutes perfecisse. Quapropter neque passsum eum, sed Simonem quendam Cyrenæum angariatum portasse crucem ejus pro eo: et hunc secundum ignorantiam et errorem crucifixum, transfiguratum ab eo, uti putaretur ipse esse Jesus: et ipsum autem Jesum Simonis accepisse formam, et stantem irrisisse eos.
  17. ^ Emmerich, Anne Catherine. "The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ". Archived from the original on 2022-01-26. Retrieved 2017-05-01.
  18. ^ Boyle, Sheila Tully; Bunie, Andrew (2001). Paul Robeson: The Years of Promise and Achievement. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. p. 89. ISBN 9781558491496. LCCN 2001017155. OL 3940756M – via Internet Archive.
  19. ^ Goudsouzian, Aram (2004). Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. p. 232. ISBN 9780807828434. OCLC 899204579. OL 9318050M. Retrieved 2022-03-28 – via Internet Archive.
  20. ^ "Cyrenians – About us". Cyrenians. Archived from the original on 2022-01-30. Retrieved 2021-04-03.

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