Click to listen highlighted text! Powered By G Speech

Share our content!

Matthew apostle and evangelist, but also
Levi publishes. There is little information, all in the New Testament and his legacy is great, all in his own
Gospel. Salerno houses his relics

by Lorenzo Bianchi

Matthew or Levi, as he is also called in the Gospels, was a publican, a tax collector in Capernaum. At Jesus' call he suddenly gets up, leaves everything and follows him. Very little is known about his life. He is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, immediately after Jesus' Ascension into heaven, and at the moment of the election of Matthias in place of Judas Iscariot.

He is one of the four evangelists: the tradition of the Church, starting from Papias, bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia around the year 130, is in agreement in attributing to Matthew the paternity of the first Gospel, which by scholars is considered the oldest, dated (depending on the interpretation of what Irenaeus states regarding it) or between 42 and 44 or between 61 and 67 (in the latter case, however, it would be later than the Gospel of Mark, which, if the famous papyrus 7Q5 from Qumran, would appear to have been written before the year 50).

The very important testimony of Papias is reported to us by Eusebius bishop of Caesarea in Ecclesiastical history: «Matthew then collected the sayings (of the Lord) in the language of the Jews, each one translating them as he could». Irenaeus' testimony about him is also transmitted to us by Eusebius: «Matthew also published among the Jews, in their language, a written Gospel, while Peter and Paul preached in Rome and founded the Church there». And again Eusebius himself: «Of all those (the apostles and disciples who frequented the Lord), however, only Matthew and John left us notes, and even these it is said that they wrote them out of necessity. In fact, Matthew, who initially preached to the Jews, when he also had to go to others, wrote down the Gospel in his mother tongue for the faithful he left behind, thus replacing his presence with writing." Therefore, while the other three Gospels are written in Greek, that of Matthew is written in his mother tongue, almost certainly in Aramaic, a language that was then spoken in Palestine. And his first preaching was addressed to the Jews.

We no longer have the original language version of the Gospel of Matthew, but only its translation into Greek. A tradition reports that at the time of the Byzantine emperor Zeno (474-491), when the archbishop Anthemios found the tomb of the apostle Barnabas in Cyprus, on his chest was placed the Gospel of Matthew written in his hand, which was then donated to the emperor.

The places of preaching attributed to Matthew are various but uncertain: Syria, Macedonia, even Ireland; but the most consistent ancient tradition reports the news of his preaching in present-day Georgia on the Black Sea (then called Caucasian Ethiopia or also Colchis on the Pontus Euxine), a tradition also accepted in the Roman Martyrology which places his martyrdom in that region, remembered on the 21st September. On the same day the Hieronimian Martyrology commemorates it, but the place of Matthew's martyrdom is called Tarrium.

According to the apocryphal Passions and the medieval one Golden legend of Jacopo da Varazze, Matthew's martyrdom would have occurred by the sword while he was celebrating mass. There is also another minor tradition, reported by Clement of Alexandria, which for Matthew speaks of natural death.

If the date of his death is however unknown, the occasion on which Matthew's body was transferred to the West is also unknown. A legendary tradition places this event around 370, by sailors who brought it from the coasts of the Black Sea to Velia (now Ascea, in the province of Salerno). From here, after the town was conquered by the Visigoths in 412, he was transferred and hidden in Lucania, in a place called Ad duo flumina at Casal Velino. The Roman Martyrology commemorates the arrival of Matthew's body in Salerno from Lucania on May 6: it was brought there on that day in the year 954 by the Lombard king Gisulf I. This tradition dates back to Chronicon Salernitanum, written by an anonymous chronicler in the monastery of San Benedetto in Salerno in 978, and to two other medieval texts that agree with it.

In Salerno, news of the relics was lost for more than a century, until they were rediscovered in 1080 and placed in the crypt of the cathedral consecrated by Pope Gregory VII, where they still rest. The date of 1080 is historically attested by the letter that Pope Gregory wrote to Alfano, archbishop of Salerno, on 18 September of that year, in which the discovery is mentioned.

Minor relics of Matthew are also known in Rome. One, brought to Rome by the future Pope Victor III in 1050 as a gift to Cencio Frangipane, was in a silver reliquary (now empty) that was found during a reconnaissance in May 1924 under the altar of the crypt of the church of Santi Cosma e Damian. It is then believed that a part of one of Matteo's arms is found in Santa Maria Maggiore, brought there by Pope Paul V (1605-1621) probably with
I give myself to the basilica. 

Click to listen highlighted text! Powered By G Speech