Because his home town, Cyrene, Libya, was located in northern Africa, a connection arose making Simon of Cyrene the first African saintly Christian. Cyrene was, however, a Jewish community where 100,000 Palestinian Jews had settled during the reign of Ptolemy Soter (323-285 BC). They had a synagogue in Jerusalem, where many went for annual feasts. Tradition states his sons Rufus and Alexander became missionaries; the inclusion of their names in Mark suggests that they were of some standing in the early Christian community at Rome. It has even been suggested that the Rufus mentioned by Paul in Romans 16:13 is the son of Simon of Cyrene. Some also link Simon himself with the "men of Cyrene" who preached the Gospel to the Greeks in Acts 11:20. On the other hand, Simon's name does not prove he was Jewish, and Alexander and Rufus were both common names and may have referred to others.
Simon's act of carrying the cross for Jesus is the fifth of the Stations of the Cross. Some analyze the passage that Simon was chosen because he may have shown sympathy with Jesus, but others point out that the text itself says nothing, that he had no choice, and there is no basis to consider the carrying of the cross an act of sympathetic generosity.
According to some Gnostic traditions, Simon of Cyrene, by mistaken identity, suffered the events leading up to the crucifixion, and died on the cross instead of Jesus. This is the story presented in the Second Treatise of the Great Seth, although it is unclear whether Simon or another actually died on the cross. This is part of a belief held by some Gnostics that Jesus was not of flesh, but only took on the appearance of flesh (see also Basilides and Irenaeus). This belief is also held by many Muslims (see Islamic view of Jesus' death).
A burial cave in Kidron Valley discovered in 1941, belonging to Cyrenian Jews and dating before AD 70, was found to have an ossuary inscribed twice in Greek "Alexander Son of Simon." It cannot, however, be certain that this refers to the same person.
The Cyrenian or Simon movement, centered in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, takes its name from Simon of Cyrene. It has as its guiding principle 'sharing the burden' which it uses to explain its approach to providing services to homeless and other disadvantaged groups in society, often using volunteers.
Characters playing Simon of Cyrene appear in the silent The King of Kings (1927, played by William Boyd) King of Kings (1961, played by Rafael Luis Calvo) The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965, played by Sidney Poitier) and The Passion of the Christ (2004, played by Jarreth J. Merz). Also there is a play about Simon by the poet Ridgely Torrence by the name of Simon the Cyrenian. Among the actors performing Simon of Cyrene in productions of this play is Paul Robeson (in a 1920 YWCA production directed by Bob Cole's sister Dora). Christian singer Ray Boltz's song "Watch the Lamb" is about Simon of Cyrene's role in Christ's crucifixion.