Around the nave of our church are twelve names and symbols of Jesus’ Apostles. But the twelve inscriptions do not include Judas Iscariot – the “bad guy” who betrayed him on Holy Thursday. So who is the extra Apostle?
Matthias, near the sacristy, was not among the original twelve. Our 1940 Anniversary Book mentions that “St. Matthias is represented by the emblem of the spear, as Raphael has painted him; others picture him with the hangman’s axe to indicate that he was beheaded…” A much-quoted anonymous reference suggests that the Italians painted Matthias with a spear and the Germans with an axe, although few enough representations exist that it is hard to generalize!
Little verifiable information is available about Matthias. Tradition says he was selected by lot, following a Jewish custom for determining God’s Will, to replace the traitorous Judas. Some accounts suggest that Matthias was killed while preaching in Judea. Other accounts suggest he was martyred after a mission to Colchis (Also land of mythological Jason and the Golden Fleece. Today the country of Georgia), where he was, perhaps, blinded by “cannibals” and, possibly, saved, for a time, by Saint Andrew. Matthias is the patron saint invoked against alcoholism.
Why were there twelve Apostles in the first place? It is said that twelve is a “perfect” or “complete” number in Jewish religion. Twelve Apostles may have represented a link and sense of continuity with the Twelve Tribes of Israel. This would explain why it was important to maintain the number.
Judas, the first twelfth Apostle, may have been banished from our walls, but he is still represented in our church, in the sculptured scene of the Last Supper on the front of the freestanding altar from Most Blessed Sacrament Church. All twelve original apostles were important in that most perfect of ceremonies – including the betrayer — an interesting thought.
Our 1911 back-facing altar features twelve encircled Xs around a Chi Rho (PX monogram representing the first two letters of Christ in Greek). A similar design at St. Malachy Church – also decorated by Henry Dagit under Reverend Crane’s direction – is described as “…crosses in circles making twelve in number, which symbols stand for the twelve Apostles, the authorized teachers of Christ, who carried the real doctrine….to all the world.” This suggests that St. Malachy’s invoked Matthias, but we don’t know for sure which twelfth Apostle, in which role – Last Supper or Pentecost — was intended on our original Altar!