Simon of Cyrene

Simon of Cyrene
The fifth Station of the Cross, showing Simon of Cyrene helping Jesus carry his cross. St. Raphael's Cathedral, Dubuque, Iowa.
Bishop, and Martyr
Venerated inChurch of the East, Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Church, and the Roman Catholic Church
AttributesCarrying Jesus’ Cross before His Crucifixion

Simon of Cyrene (Hebrew: שמעון, Standard Hebrew Šimʿon, Tiberian Hebrew Šimʿôn; Greek: Σίμων Κυρηναῖος, Simōn Kyrēnaios; died CE 100[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:[2][3]

And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross.[4]

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


Cyrene was located in northern Africa in eastern Libya. A Greek city in the province of Cyrenaica, 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.[5]

Biblical accounts[]

Simon's act of carrying the cross, patibulum (crossbeam in Latin), for Jesus is the fifth or seventh of the Stations of the Cross.[6] Some interpret the passage as indicating that Simon was chosen because he may have shown sympathy with Jesus.[5] 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.[7]

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. 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.[8] Some also link Simon himself with the "men of Cyrene" who preached the Gospel to the Greeks in Acts 11:20.[5] 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.[7]

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.[9][10]

Church tradition[]

Simon of Cyrene is not included in the Old and Revised Roman Martyrology of the Catholic Church.[1]

Gnostic views[]

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.[11] 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.[12][13] 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.[14] — Irenaeus, Against Heresies[15]

In popular culture[]

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.[16]

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.[17]

Sidney Poitier was cast as Simon of Cyrene in The Greatest Story Ever Told that was directed by George Stevens and released in 1965.[18]

The 1979 comedy film Monty Python's Life of Brian contains a vignette referencing the Simon of Cyrene episode. In this case, 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.


Both the Simon Community, and the Cyrenian movement (which provides services to homeless and other disadvantaged groups in the UK)[19] take their name from Simon of Cyrene.

See also[]


  1. ^ a b 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. ^ Mark 15:21–22
  3. ^ Luke 23:26
  4. ^ Matthew 27:32
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Marie, John Anthony (ed.). "Stations of the Cross - Fifth Station". Traditional Catholic. Archived from the original on 2017-05-17. Retrieved 2022-03-27.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ 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.[7]
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Irenaeus (1857). On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis (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.
  16. ^ Emmerich, Anne Catherine. "The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ". Archived from the original on 2022-01-26. Retrieved 2017-05-01.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ "Cyrenians – About us". Cyrenians. Archived from the original on 2022-01-30. Retrieved 2021-04-03.

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