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Saint Bartholomew, Apostle

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Saint Bartholomew, Apostle, St. Peter's Cathedral, Rockford, Illinois. (Photo © Scott P. Richert)

A stained-glass window of Saint Bartholomew, Apostle, in Saint Peter's Cathedral, Rockford, Illinois.

(Photo © Scott P. Richert)

Introduction to the Life of Saint Bartholomew:

Not much is known about the life of Saint Bartholomew. He is mentioned by name four times in the New Testament—once in each of the synoptic gospels (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14) and once in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:13). All four mentions are in lists of Christ's apostles. But the name Bartholomew is actually a family name, meaning the "son of Tholmai" (Bar-Tholmai, or Bartholomaios in the Greek). For that reason, Bartholomew is usually identified with Nathaniel, whom Saint John mentions in his gospel (John 1:45-51; 21:2), but who is not mentioned in the synoptic gospels.

Quick Facts:

  • Feast Day: August 24
  • Type of Feast: Feast
  • Readings: Revelation 21:9b-14; Psalm 145:10-11, 12-13, 17-18; John 1:45-51 (full text here)
  • Dates: Unknown (Cana in Galilee)-Unknown (Albanopolis, Armenia)
  • Birth Name: Nathaniel
  • Patron of: Armenia, tanners, plasterers, cheese merchants, those with nervous tics

Life of Saint Bartholomew:

The identification of the Bartholomew of the synoptic gospels and Acts with the Nathaniel of the Gospel of John is strengthened by the fact that Nathaniel was brought to Christ by the apostle Philip (John 1:45), and in the lists of the apostles in the synoptic gospels, Bartholomew is always placed next to Philip. If this identification is correct, then it was Bartholomew who uttered the famous line concerning Christ: "Can any thing of good come from Nazareth?" (John 1:46). That remark evoked the response from Christ, upon first meeting Bartholomew: "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile" (John 1:47). Bartholomew became a follower of Jesus because Christ told him the circumstances under which Philip called him ("under the fig tree," John 1:48). Yet Christ told Bartholomew that he would see greater things: "Amen, amen I say to you, you shall see the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man."

According to tradition, after Christ's Death, Resurrection, and Ascension, Bartholomew evangelized in the East, in Mesopotamia, Persia, around the Black Sea, and perhaps reaching as far as India. Like all of the apostles, with the singular exception of Saint John, he met his death by martyrdom. According to tradition, Bartholomew converted the king of Armenia by casting out a demon from the chief idol in the temple and then destroying all of the idols. In a rage, the king's older brother ordered Bartholomew to be seized, beaten, and executed.

Different traditions describe different methods of Bartholomew's execution. He is said either to have been beheaded or to have had his skin removed and been crucified upside down, like Saint Peter. He is depicted in Christian iconography with a tanner's knife, used to separate an animal's hide from its carcass. Some depictions include a cross in the background; others (most famously Michelangelo's Last Judgment) show Bartholomew with his own skin draped over his arm.

According to tradition, the relics of Saint Bartholomew made their way from Armenia to the Isle of Lipari (near Sicily) in the seventh century. From there, they were moved to Benevento, in Campania, northeast of Naples, in 809, and finally came to rest in 983 in the Church of Saint Bartholomew-in-the-Island, on the Isle of Tiber in Rome.

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