According to the Book of Acts, Barnabas was born on the island of Cyprus, probably in the city of Salamis. Therefore, his first missionary journey with Paul started with a “homecoming” of sorts. Barnabas would have known many of the Jews on the island and all the synagogues in the area. He was also a strong personality – “the son of encouragement” — a perfect right-hand-man for the Apostle Paul.
Later in Acts, we learn that Barnabas left Paul’s missionary team and returned to Cyprus to help lead the church in Salamis. He was a very popular leader. In fact, ancient church sources record that Barnabas was considered the first Bishop of Salamis.
Barnabas was murdered on Cyprus in about 61 AD by a mob stirred up by Bar-Jesus (also known as Elymas), the same false prophet that caused issues during Barnabas and Paul’s first missionary journey to the island. According to ancient sources, Barnabas was preaching at a synagogue in Salamis, when a mob attacked him, dragged him out with a rope around his neck, and killed him. These same sources tell us that John Mark, who also happened to be the cousin of Barnabas, collected the body of Barnabas and buried him in this area.
There is a massive catacomb complex on the island that has only been partially excavated. The necropolis of tombs covers centuries of burials before and after Barnabas. One section is known as the “Royal Tombs,” where they have discovered elaborate ancient burials complete with horses and chariots.
It is said that the remains of Barnabas were discovered in the necropolis in the 5th century AD, with his tomb still containing the Gospel of Matthew that John Mark placed in it. A number of churches have been built and destroyed over the tomb ever since, including the most-recent version known as the Saint Barnabas Chapel. Beneath chapel is the traditional location for the tomb of Barnabas, a great hero of the Christian faith. It is a somber location like this that reminds us of the “all-in” commitment of these early followers of Jesus.
The Saint Barnabas Monastery in Famagusta, just outside ancient Salamis, was built in the 1750’s to commemorate the martyrdom of Barnabas on the island of Cyprus. The legacy of Barnabas is a great inspiration for many Christians, even to this day.