Lazarus of Bethany: Wikis


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St. Lazarus of Bethany
Saints Simeon and Lazarus (from the Jabacher altar, right wing inside) by Albrecht Dürer
Four-days dead, Friend of Christ
Venerated in Eastern Orthodox Church
Oriental Orthodox Churches
Roman Catholic Church
Eastern Catholic Churches
Anglican Communion
Lutheran Church
Feast Lazarus Saturday (Orthodox and Eastern Catholic)
December 17 (Western Churches)
Attributes Sometimes vested as an apostle, sometimes as a bishop. In the scene of his resurrection, he is portrayed tightly bound in grave clothes, which resemble swaddling bands

Lazarus of Bethany, also known as Saint Lazarus or Lazarus of the Four Days, is the subject of a prominent miracle attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John, in which Jesus restores him to life four days after his death. The Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions offer varying accounts of the later events of his life.

In the context of the Gospel of John, the narrative of the Raising of Lazarus forms "the climactic sign... Each of Jesus' seven signs illustrates some particular aspect of his divine authority, but this one exemplifies his power over the last and most irresistible enemy of humanity--death. For this reason it is given a prominent place in the gospel."[1]

The name Lazarus (from the Hebrew: אלעזר, Elʿāzār, Eleazar - "God (has) helped") is also given to a second figure in the Bible: in the narrative of Lazarus and Dives, attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of Luke.[2] Also called Dives and Lazarus, or The Rich Man and the Beggar Lazarus, the narrative tells of the relationship (in life and in death) between an unnamed rich man and a poor beggar named Lazarus. While the two characters named Lazarus have sometimes been conflated historically, they are generally understood to be two separate characters. Allusions to Lazarus as a poor beggar taken to the "Bosom of Abraham" should be understood as referring to the Lazarus mentioned in Luke, rather than the Lazarus raised from the dead in John.

In allusion to John's account of the resurrection of Lazarus, the name Lazarus is often used to connote apparent restoration to life. For example, the scientific term "Lazarus taxon" denotes organisms that reappear in the fossil record after a period of apparent extinction; and the Lazarus phenomenon refers to an event in which a person spontaneously returns to life (the heart starts beating again) after resuscitation has been given up. There are also numerous literary uses of the term.


The "Raising of Lazarus"



Raising Lazarus, Oil on Copper Plate, 1875, Carl Heinrich Bloch (Hope Gallery, Salt Lake City)

The biblical narrative of the Raising of Lazarus is found in chapter 11 of the Gospel of John.[3] Lazarus is introduced as a follower of Jesus, who lives in the town of Bethany near Jerusalem.[4] He is identified as the brother of the sisters Mary and Martha. The sisters send word to Jesus that Lazarus, "he whom thou lovest," is ill.[5] Instead of immediately traveling to Bethany, according to the narrator, Jesus intentionally remains where he is for two more days before beginning the journey.

When Jesus arrives in Bethany, he finds that Lazarus is dead and has already been in his tomb for four days. He meets first with Martha and Mary in turn. Martha laments that Jesus did not arrive soon enough to heal her brother and Jesus replies with the well-known statement, "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die".[6] Next encountering Mary, Jesus is moved by her sorrow. The narrator here gives the famous simple phrase, "Jesus wept".[7] (This is the shortest verse in the Bible).[citation needed]

In the presence of a crowd of Jewish mourners, Jesus comes to the tomb. Over the objections of Martha, Jesus has them roll the stone away from the entrance to the tomb and says a prayer. He then calls Lazarus to come out and Lazarus does so, still wrapped in his grave-cloths. Jesus then calls for someone to remove the grave-cloths.

The narrative ends with the statement that many of the witnesses to this event "believed in him." Others are said to report the events to the religious authorities in Jerusalem.

The Gospel of John mentions Lazarus again in chapter 12. Six days before the Passover on which Jesus is crucified, Jesus returns to Bethany and Lazarus attends a supper that Martha, his sister, serves.[8] Jesus and Lazarus together attract the attention of many Jews and the narrator states that the chief priests consider having Lazarus put to death because so many people are believing in Jesus on account of this miracle.[9]

The miracle of the raising of Lazarus, the longest coherent narrative in John aside from the Passion, is the climax of John's "signs". It explains the crowds seeking Jesus on Palm Sunday, and leads directly to the decision of Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin to kill Jesus.

It is notable that Lazarus is the only resurrected character in the Bible (besides himself) that Jesus personally refers to as "dead." The Daughter of Jairus, whom he resurrected at another time, was said by Jesus to have been "sleeping."

Depictions in art

The Raising of Lazarus is a popular subject in religious art. Two the most famous paintings are those of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (c. 1609) and Sebastiano del Piombo (1516). Among other prominent depictions of Lazarus are works by Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Ivor Williams, and Lazarus Breaking His Fast by Walter Sickert.

Tomb of Lazarus in Bethany

Reputed tomb of Lazarus in al-Eizariya

The reputed first tomb of Lazarus at al-Eizariya in the West Bank (generally believed to be the biblical Bethany) continues to be a place of pilgrimage to this day (Lazarus is also considered a saint by the Shi'ite faith[citation needed]). Several Christian churches have existed at the site over the centuries. Since the 16th century, the site of the tomb has been occupied by the al-Uzair Mosque. The adjacent Roman Catholic Church of Saint Lazarus, designed by Antonio Barluzzi and built between 1952 and 1955 under the auspices of the Franciscan Order, stands upon the site of several much older ones. In 1965, a Greek Orthodox church was built just west of the tomb.

The entrance to the tomb today is via a flight of uneven rock-cut steps from the street. As it was described in 1896, there were twenty-four steps from the then-modern street level, leading to a square chamber serving as a place of prayer, from which more steps led to a lower chamber believed to be the tomb of Lazarus.[10] The same description applies today.[11][12]

There is no mention of a church at Bethany until the late 4th century C.E., but both the historian Eusebius of Caesarea[13] (c. 330) and the Bordeaux pilgrim in the Itinerarium Burdigalense[14] (c. 333) do mention the tomb of Lazarus. The first mention of a church dedicated to Saint Lazarus, called the Lazarium, is by Jerome in 390. This is confirmed by the pilgrim Egeria in her Itinerary, where she recounts a liturgy celebrated there in about the year 410. Therefore, the church is thought to have been built between 333 and 390.[15] The present-day gardens contain the remnants of a mosaic floor from the 4th century church.[16]

The Lazarium was destroyed by an earthquake in the 6th century, and was replaced by a larger church. This church was mentioned by the Coptic pope Theodosius I of Alexandria, circa 518 [17] and by the Frankish bishop Arculf in his narrative of the Holy Land, circa 680.[18] It survived intact until the Crusader era.

In 1143, King Fulk and Queen Melisende of Jerusalem purchased the village of Bethany from the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem in exchange for land near Hebron. The queen built a large Benedictine convent dedicated to Mary and Martha near the tomb of Lazarus and extensively repaired the 6th-century church. She also built a new west church to St. Lazarus over his tomb; fortified the complex with a tower; and bestowed the nuns of the convent with the estates of the village of Jericho. Melisende's sister Ioveta was one of the first abbesses. After the fall of Jerusalem in 1187, the nuns of the convent went into exile. The new west church was most likely destroyed at this time, with only the tomb and barrel vaulting surviving; the 6th century church and tower were also heavily damaged at this time but remained standing.

By 1384, a mosque had been built on the site.[12] In the 16th century, the Ottomans built the al-Uzair Mosque to serve the town's (now Muslim) inhabitants and named it in honor of the town's patron saint, Lazarus of Bethany.[16]

For 100 years after the mosque was constructed, Christians were invited to worship in it, but the practice was frowned upon by European church authorities who preferred for adherents of the faiths to remain separate.[16] As Christian access to the tomb became more difficult, the Franciscans were eventually permitted (between 1566 and 1575[19]) to cut a new entrance into the tomb on the north side. At some point the original entrance from the mosque was blocked. This entrance can still be seen in the east wall of the church's antechamber.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913, there were scholars who questioned the reputed site of the ancient village (though this was discounted by the Encyclopedia's author):

Some believe that the present village of Bethany does not occupy the site of the ancient village; but that it grew up around the traditional cave which they suppose to have been at some distance from the house of Martha and Mary in the village; Zanecchia (La Palestine d'aujourd'hui, 1899, I, 445f.) places the site of the ancient village of Bethany higher up on the southeastern slope of the Mount of Olives, not far from the accepted site of Bethphage, and near that of the Ascension. It is quite certain that the present village formed about the traditional tomb of Lazarus, which is in a cave in the village. The identification of this cave as the tomb of Lazarus is merely possible; it has no strong intrinsic or extrinsic authority. The site of the ancient village may not precisely coincide with the present one, but there is every reason to believe that it was in this general location."[20]

Additional traditions about Lazarus of Bethany

While there is no further mention of Lazarus in the Bible, the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions offer varying accounts of the later events of his life. He is most commonly associated with Cyprus, where he is said to have become the first bishop of Kittim (Larnaka), and Provence, where he is said to have been the first bishop of Marseille.

Bishop of Kittim

Church of Ayios Lazaros in Larnaca, Cyprus, built over the reputed (second) tomb of Lazarus.

According to Eastern Orthodox Church tradition, sometime after the Resurrection of Christ, Lazarus was forced to flee Judea because of rumoured plots on his life and came to Cyprus. There was appointed by Paul and Barnabas as the first bishop of Kittim (present-day Larnaka). He lived there for thirty more years and on his death was buried there for the second and last time.[21]

Further establishing the apostolic nature of Lazarus' appointment was the story that the bishop's pallium was presented to Lazarus by the Virgin Mary, who had woven it herself. Such apostolic connections were central to the claims to autocephaly made by the bishops of Kittim—subject to the patriarch of Jerusalem—during the period 325–413. The church of Kittim was declared (or confirmed) self-governing in 413[citation needed].

According to tradition, Lazarus never smiled during the thirty years after his resurrection, worried by the sight of unredeemed souls he had seen during his four-day stay in Hades. The only exception was, when he saw someone stealing a pot, he smilingly said: "the clay steals the clay."[21]

In 890, a tomb was found in Larnaca bearing the inscription "Lazarus the friend of Christ". Emperor Leo VI of Byzantium had Lazarus' remains transferred to Constantinople in 898. The transfer was apostrophized by Arethas, bishop of Caesarea, and is commemorated by the Orthodox Church each year on October 17.

In recompense to Larnaca, Emperor Leo had the Church of St. Lazarus, which still exists today, erected over Lazarus' tomb. The marble sarcophagus can be seen inside the church under the Holy of Holies. On November 2, 1972, human remains in a marble sarcophagus under the altar were discovered during renovation works in the church at Larnaka, and were identified as part of the saint's relics.[citation needed]

After the sacking of Constantinople by the Franks during the Fourth Crusade in 1204, the Crusaders carried the saint's relics to Marseilles, France as part of the booty of war. From there, "later on, they disappeared and up to the present day they have not been traced."[21]

Bishop of Marseille

Autun Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Lazare d'Autun), Autun, France also said to be built over the tomb of Lazarus

In the West, according to an alternative medieval tradition (centered in Provence), Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, were "put out to sea by the Jews hostile to Christianity in a vessel without sails, oars, or helm, and after a miraculous voyage landed in Provence at a place called today the Saintes-Maries."[22] The family is then said to separate and go in different parts of southeastern Gaul to preach; Lazarus goes to Marseilles. Converting many people to Christianity there, he becomes the first Bishop of Marseille. During the persecution of Domitian, he is imprisoned and beheaded in a cave beneath the prison Saint-Lazare. His body is later translated to Autun, where he is buried in the Autun Cathedral, dedicated to Lazarus as Saint Lazare. However, the inhabitants of Marseilles claim to be in possession of his head which they still venerate.[22]

Pilgrims also visit another purported tomb of Lazarus at the Vézelay Abbey in Burgundy.[citation needed] In the Abbey of the Trinity at Vendôme, a phylactery was said to contain a tear shed by Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus.[citation needed]

The Golden Legend, compiled in the 13th century, records the Provençal tradition. It also records a grand lifestyle imagined for Lazarus and his sisters (note that therein Lazarus' sister Mary is conflated with Mary Magdalene):

Mary Magdalene had her surname of Magdalo, a castle, and was born of right noble lineage and parents, which were descended of the lineage of kings. And her father was named Cyrus, and her mother Eucharis. She with her brother Lazarus, and her sister Martha, possessed the castle of Magdalo, which is two miles from Nazareth, and Bethany, the castle which is nigh to Jerusalem, and also a great part of Jerusalem, which, all these things they departed among them. In such wise that Mary had the castle Magdalo, whereof she had her name Magdalene. And Lazarus had the part of the city of Jerusalem, and Martha had to her part Bethany. And when Mary gave herself to all delights of the body, and Lazarus entended all to knighthood, Martha, which was wise, governed nobly her brother's part and also her sister's, and also her own, and administered to knights, and her servants, and to poor men, such necessities as they needed. Nevertheless, after the ascension of our Lord, they sold all these things.[23]

Liturgical commemorations

Lazarus is honored as a saint by those Christian churches which keep the commemoration of saints, although on different days, according to local traditions.

In Christian funerals the idea of the deceased being raised by the Lord as Lazarus was raised is often expressed in prayer.

Eastern Orthodoxy

In the Eastern Orthodox Church as well as the Byzantine Catholic Church, the day before Palm Sunday is celebrated as Lazarus Saturday.[24] This day, together with Palm Sunday, hold a unique position in the church year, as days of joy and triumph between the penitence of Great Lent and the mourning of Holy Week.[25] During the preceding week, the hymns in the Lenten Triodion track the sickness and then the death of Lazarus, and Christ's journey from beyond Jordan to Bethany. The scripture readings and hymns for Lazarus Saturday focus on the resurrection of Lazarus as a foreshadowing of the Resurrection of Christ, and a promise of the General Resurrection. The Gospel narrative is interpreted in the hymns as illustrating the two natures of Christ: his humanity in asking, "Where have ye laid him?",[26] and his divinity by commanding Lazarus to come forth from the dead.[27] Many of the Resurrectional hymns of the normal Sunday service, which are omitted on Palm Sunday, are chanted on Lazarus Saturday. During the Divine Liturgy, the Baptismal Hymn, "As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ",[28] is sung in place of the Trisagion.

Although the forty days of Great Lent end on the day before Lazarus Saturday, the day is still observed as a fast; however, it is somewhat mitigated. In Russia, it is traditional to eat caviar on Lazarus Saturday.

Roman Catholicism

No celebration of Saint Lazarus is included on the General Roman Calendar of the Roman Catholic Church, but his memorial was listed in the Roman Martyrology for December 17.[29]

In Cuba, the celebration of San Lázaro on December 17 is a major festival. The date is celebrated with a pilgrimage to a chapel housing an image Saint Lazarus, one of Cuba's most sacred icons, in the village of El Rincon, outside Havana.[30]


Lazarus is commemorated in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church on July 29 together with Mary and Martha.

Conflation with the beggar Lazarus of Lazarus and Dives

Historically within Christianity, the begging Lazarus of the parable (feast day June 21) and Lazarus of Bethany (feast day December 17) have often been conflated, with some churches celebrating a blessing of dogs, associated with the beggar, on December 17, the date associated with Lazarus of Bethany.[31]

Another example of this conflation can be found in Romanesque iconography carved on portals in Burgundy and Provence. For example, at the west portal of the Church of St. Trophime at Arles, the beggar Lazarus is enthroned as St, Lazarus. Similar examples are found at the church at Avallon, the central portal at Vézelay, and the portals of the cathedral of Autun.[32]

Order of Saint Lazarus

The Military and Hospitaller Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem (OSLJ) is a religious/military order of chivalry which originated in a leper hospital founded by Knights Hospitaller in the twelfth century by Crusaders of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. Sufferers of leprosy regarded the beggar Lazarus (of Luke 19:19-31) as their patron saint and usually dedicated their hospices to him.[33]

Lazarus as Babalu Aye in Santeria

Via syncretism, Lazarus (or more precisely the conflation of the two figures named Lazarus) has become an important figure in Santeria as the Yoruba deity Babalu Aye. Like the beggar of the Christian Gospel of Luke, Babalu-Aye represents someone covered with sores licked by dogs who was healed by divine intervention.[34][30] Silver charms known as the crutch of St. Lazarus or standard Roman Catholic-style medals of St. Lazarus are worn as talismans to invoke the aid of the syncretized deity in cases of medical suffering, particularly for people with AIDS.[34] In Santeria, the date associated with St. Lazarus is December 17,[30] despite Santeria's reliance on the iconography associated with the begging saint whose feast day is June 21.[31]

In popular culture

Well-known in Western culture from their respective biblical tales, both figures named Lazarus (Lazarus of Bethany and the Beggar Lazarus of Lazarus and Dives), have appeared countless times in music, writing and art. The majority of the references are to Lazarus of Bethany, including the following:

Literatary allusions to the Beggar Lazarus appear in Herman Melville's novel Moby-Dick (as part of a metaphor describing a cold night in New Bedford)[38] and in the poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T. S. Eliot (which contains the lines: 'To say: "I am Lazarus, come from the dead,/Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all" ', in reference to Dives' request to have Beggar Lazarus return from the dead to tell his brothers of his fate).


  1. ^ Tenney, Merrill C.. Kenneth L. Barker & John Kohlenberger III. ed. Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 
  2. ^ Luke 16:19-31
  3. ^ John 11:1-46
  4. ^ John 11:1
  5. ^ John 11:3
  6. ^ John 11:25, KJV
  7. ^ John 11:35, KJV
  8. ^ John 12:2
  9. ^ John 12:9-11
  10. ^ In The Biblical World 8.5 (November 1896:40).
  11. ^ Modern Bethany, by Albert Storme, Franciscan Cyberspot.
  12. ^ a b "Sacred Destinations".
  13. ^ The Onomastikon of Eusebius and the Madaba Map, By Leah Di Segni. First published in: The Madaba Map Centenary, Jerusalem, 1999, pp. 115-120.
  14. ^ Itinerary of the Pilgrim of Bordeaux, translated by Arnold vander Nat, 2001.
  15. ^ Bethany in Byzantine Times I and Bethany in Byzantine Times II, by Albert Storme, Franciscan Cyberspot.
  16. ^ a b c Mariam Shahin (2005). Palestine: A Guide. Interlink Books. p. 332. ISBN 156656557X. 
  17. ^ A Source Book for Ancient Church History
  18. ^ MacPherson, James Rose, trans., The Pilgrimage of Arculf in the Holy Land, about the year A.D. 670 (London: Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society, 1895).
  19. ^ Murphy-O'Connor, Jerome (2008). The Holy Land: an Oxford archaeological guide from earliest times to 1700 (5th ed.). Oxford University Press US. ISBN 9780199236664. 
  20. ^ "Bethany". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  21. ^ a b c Michaelides, M.G. "Saint Lazarus, The Friend Of Christ And First Bishop Of Kition", Larnaca, Cyprus, 1984. Reprinted by Fr. Demetrios Serfes at St. Lazarus The Friend Of Christ And First Bishop Of Kition, Cyprus
  22. ^ a b "St. Lazarus of Bethany". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  23. ^ "Of Mary Magdalene", Legenda Aurea, Book IV.
  24. ^ Lazarus Saturday - Icon and Synaxarion
  25. ^ Archimandrite Kallistos Ware and Mother Mary, Tr., The Lenten Triodion (St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, South Canaan, PA, 2002, ISBN 1-878997-51-3), p. 57.
  26. ^ (John 11:34)
  27. ^ (John 11:43)
  28. ^ (Romans 6:3)
  29. ^ December 17, Roman Martyrology (1749).
  30. ^ a b c With sackcloth and rum, Cubans hail Saint Lazarus, December 17, 1998. Reuters news story.
  31. ^ a b Money talks: folklore in the public sphere December 2005, Folklore magazine.
  32. ^ Richard Hamann, "Lazarus in Heaven" The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 63 No. 364 (July 1933), pp. 3-5, 8-11
  33. ^ "History", official international website of the Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem. Retrieved on 2009-09-14.
  34. ^ a b Lazarus
  35. ^ Lazarus
  36. ^ Carman Bio, MPCA promotional material.
  37. ^ Comin' On Strong discography.
  38. ^ Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. pp. 11–12. 


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