Louis Power gives an interesting outline drawing from myths, legends, historical and biblical sources about what happened to the 12 apostles after Pentecost.
It seems beyond dispute that the original ‘apostolic college’ consisted of Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, Philip, Thomas, Matthew, James, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot. There is a problem with Bartholomew (cf. Matthew, Mark, Luke), generally considered to be Nathaniel (mentioned only by John), while the other Judas (Jude), the son of James, was likely the one called Thaddeus (cf. Matthew, Mark).
Simon bar Jonah: The rock on whom Christ founded His Church, with the help of the Holy Spirit, united 120 confused and dispirited followers of Jesus and within days had built a Church numbering more than 5,000. Peter’s ministry from the start was accompanied by miracles and two periods in gaol. Before ending up in Rome, he embarked on an extensive preaching tour of Asia Minor (some sources say he was accompanied by his wife, Perpetua). Arrested yet again, tradition holds that Peter was held in prison for nine months, chained to a column in a filthy dungeon. On 29 June 67, he was crucified upside-down.
Andrew: Already a disciple of John the Baptist, he was one of the first to be invited by Jesus to “come and see”, but little is known of him thereafter although he did figure prominently in the feeding of the 5,000. After Pentecost, Scripture is silent about Andrew except to say that most of the apostles remained in Jerusalem until about AD 42, the time of the persecution of Herod Agrippa. Afterwards, it is thought that Andrew ministered around the Black Sea, then in Armenia before travelling to Asia Minor and finally into Patrae in Greece where, in 69, he was martyred by the lingering death of a crucifixion without nails. His remains, as one legend has it, lie in the cathedral in Amalfi, Italy.
James the Great: Brother of John, son of Zebedee and Salome, may have been one of the oldest of the apostles. Although one of the “inner circle” of Peter, James and John, those apostles closest to Jesus, nothing more is heard of James until his death ten years later during the short reign of Herod Agrippa, in 42 or 44 (Acts 12). The Spanish have a long tradition that it was this James, who introduced the Christian faith to Spain, but this is disputed. His remains are believed by some to now repose in the cathedral at Compostela in northern Spain.
John – “The Beloved”: Born into a fishing family, he was at the foot of the Cross when Jesus entrusted his mother Mary into his care. After Pentecost, John is mentioned by Paul as being one of the pillars” of the Church (Gal 2:9). Although he journeyed to Samaria with Peter, he seems to have been one of the least-travelled of the apostles. He did later travel to Rome, however, to meet Peter and was almost martyred there, reputedly walking unscathed from a cauldron of boiling oil. Around AD 66 or 69, following his exile in Patmos, he is thought to have gone to Ephesus where he remained for the rest of his life. Afflicted with a crippling illness, he died at an advanced age, around 100, and is best remembered for his sublime gospel, his letters and the Book of Revelation.
James the Less: The son of Alphaeus. While one tradition holds that James was the first bishop of Syria, more reliable sources claim that he remained in Jerusalem and was stoned to death by an angry crowd, probably in 62.
Philip: Following Stephen’s death in 36, Philip is reputed to have gone to Samaria and afterwards to Gaza, encountering on the way the Ethopian minister of finance (Acts 8). He lived for more than 20 years in Caesarea where Paul and Luke visited him (Acts 21:8). Following much missionary activity in Asia Minor and surrounding areas, Philip incurred the ire of the Roman governor and was crucified upside-down around AD 90.
Bartholomew: If Bartholomew was indeed Nathaniel, he was the one invited to meet Jesus by his friend Philip, eliciting the response Can anything good come from Nazareth? In later years Bartholomew preached for a time in Lycaonia (part of present-day Turkey), in Armenia and possibly in Persia in the early 40s. The firmest traditions, however, place Bartholomew in India circa AD 60, but his ministry did not last long as, caught up in a campaign against the new Christians, he was clubbed, skinned alive and finally beheaded.
Thomas: Almost all of ‘Doubting’ Thomas’s ministry took place outside the limits of the Roman Empire. Immediately after Pentecost, Thomas evangelised the nation of Osroene (now eastern Turkey). He also travelled into Armenia and may have returned to Jerusalem in the late 40s before moving to the north of India, possibly the Punjab. In the early 60s, Thomas embarked on a long series of missionary journeys, settling finally in Mylapore. Most traditions agree that Thomas died from stab wounds inflicted by Hindu priests near Madras on 3 July AD 72.
Matthew: Known as the ‘Phantom Apostle’, because so little is known about his life, he was a son of Alphaeus (Mk 2:14) and brother of James. Matthew appears to have ministered to the Jewish communities in Palestine for many years. Some accounts claim that he lived and was martyred in Ethiopia, others that he died a natural death in about AD 90.
Simon and Jude: The only two apostles to die together were Simon and Jude. Some of the legends about Simon’s later life claim that he ministered in Africa, Egypt and possibly even in Great Britain. Jude is reputed to have been the first apostle into the missionary-field. He travelled to Osroene and then to Armenia where he remained for many years before joining up with Simon in 66 and moving to Iran. Despite fierce opposition from the Magi, Simon and Jude converted 60,000 people to Christianity in Babylon and moved to the city of Suanair in 79. There, a howling mob attacked them with stones; Jude was run through with a spear and Simon sawn into pieces.
Matthias: Mentioned only twice in all of Scripture – in the passage Acts 1: 21-26 where he is elected as a replacement for Judas Iscariot. He was considered by Clement, an early Church Father, to be in the mould of John the Baptist and to have lived a life of austerity. Matthias is usually associated with Armenia, on the north shores of the Black Sea, before his return to Jerusalem where he is thought to have been stoned to death by a hostile crowd in 51, thus probably becoming the second of the twelve to die.
This article first appeared in The Word (June 2005), a Divine Word Missionary Publication.