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Bartholomew the Apostle
Saint Bartholomew (right) with Saint John, by Dosso Dossi
Apostle, Martyr
Born 1st century AD, Iudaea Province (Palaestina)
Died 1st century AD, Caucasic Albania. Flayed and then crucified
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Churches
Oriental Orthodoxy
Anglican Communion
Lutheran Church
Major shrine Saint Bartholomew Monastery in historical Armenia, Relics at Saint Bartholomew-on-the-Tiber Church, Rome, the Canterbury Cathedral, cathedral in Frankfurt, and the San Bartolomeo Cathedral in Lipari
Feast August 24 (Western Christianity)
June 11 (Eastern Christianity)
Attributes Knife, His flayed skin
Patronage Armenia; bookbinders; butchers; Florentine cheese and salt merchants; Gambatesa, Italy; Għargħur, Malta; leather workers; neurological diseases; plasterers; shoemakers; tanners; trappers; twitching; whiteners

Bartholomew was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, and is usually identified with Nathanael,[1] mentioned only in the Gospel of John. Bartholomew (Greek: Βαρθολομαίος, transliterated "Bartholomaios") comes from the Aramaic bar-Tôlmay (תולמי‎‎‎‎‎-בר‎‎), meaning son of Tolmay (Ptolemy) or son of the furrows (perhaps a ploughman). Based on this meaning, many have assumed it was not a given name, but a family name.[2]

The festival of St Bartholomew is celebrated on August 24 in the western Church and on June 11 in the Eastern churches. The Armenian Apostolic Church honours Saint Bartholomew, along with Jude the Apostle (a.k.a. Thaddeus), as its patron saint. The Coptic Church remembers him on January 1. The festival in August has been a traditional occasion for markets and fairs, such as the Bartholomew Fair held in Smithfield, London since the Middle Ages that served as the scene for Ben Jonson's homonymous comedy (1614).

New Testament references

Though Bartholomew was listed among the Twelve Apostles in the three Synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and also appears as one of the witnesses of the Ascension,[Acts 1:4,12,13] each time named in the company of Philip, he is one of the apostles of whom no word is reported nor any individual action recorded in the New Testament. Nor are there any early acta,[3] the earliest being written by a pseudepigraphical writer who assumed the identity of Abdias of Babylon and is called "the pseudo-Abdias".[4]


In the East, where Bartholomew's evangelical labours were expended, he was identified with Nathanael, in works by Ebedjesu, the fourteenth century Nestorian metropolitan of Soba, and Elias, the bishop of Damascus.[5] Nathanael is mentioned only in the Gospel according to John. In the Synoptic gospels, Philip and Bartholomew are always mentioned together, while Nathanael is never mentioned; in John's gospel, on the other hand, Philip and Nathanael are similarly mentioned together, but nothing is said of Bartholomew. Giuseppe Simone Assemani specifically remarks, "the Chaldeans confound Bartholomew with Nathaniel".[6] Some Biblical scholars reject this identification, however.[7]

In the Gospel of John.[1:45-51] Nathanael is introduced as a friend of Philip. He is described as initially being skeptical about the Messiah coming from Nazareth, saying: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?", but nonetheless, follows Philip's invitation. Jesus immediately characterizes him as "Here is a man in whom there is no deception." Some scholars hold that Jesus' quote "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you", is based on a Jewish figure of speech referring to studying the Torah. Nathanael recognizes Jesus as "the Son of God" and "the King of Israel". Nathanael reappears at the end of John's gospel[21:2] as one of the disciples to whom Jesus appeared at the Sea of Galilee after the Resurrection.


The Saint Bartholomew Monastery at the site of the Apostle's martyrdom in historical Armenia

Eusebius of Caesarea's Ecclesiastical History (v §10) states that after the Ascension, Bartholomew went on a missionary tour to India, where he left behind a copy of the Gospel of Matthew. Other traditions record him as serving as a missionary in Ethiopia, Mesopotamia, Parthia, and Lycaonia.[2]

Along with his fellow apostle Jude, Bartholomew is reputed to have brought Christianity to Armenia in the 1st century. Thus both saints are considered the patron saints of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The 13th century Saint Bartholomew Monastery was a prominent Armenian monastery constructed at the site of the martyrdom of Apostle Bartholomew in the Vaspurakan Province of Greater Armenia (now in southeastern Turkey).[8]

Mission in India

Two ancient testimonies exist about the mission of Saint Bartholomew in India. These are of Eusebius of Caesarea ( early fourth century) and of Saint Jerome ( late fourth century). Both these refer to this tradition while speaking of the reported visit of Pantaenus to India in the second century.[9]

The studies of Perumalil and Moraes hold that the Bombay region on the Konkan coast, a region which have been known after the ancient town Kalyan, was the field of Saint Bartholomew's missionary activities and his martyrdom.[9]

Bartholomew's relics

The sixth-century writer in Constantinople, Theodorus Lector, averred that in about 507 Emperor Anastasius gave the body of Bartholomew to the city of Dura-Europos, which he had recently re-founded.[10] The existence of relics at Lipari, a small island off the coast of Sicily, in the part of Italy controlled from Constantinople, was explained by Gregory of Tours[11] by his body having miraculously washed up there: a large piece of his skin and many bones that were kept in the Cathedral of St Bartholomew the Apostle, Lipari, were translated to Beneventum in 803, and to Rome in 983 by Holy Roman Emperor Otto II, conserved at the basilica of San Bartolomeo all'Isola. In time, the church there inherited an old pagan medical center. This association with medicine in course of time caused Bartholomew's name to become associated with medicine and hospitals.[12] Some of Bartholomew's skull was transferred to Frankfurt, while an arm is venerated in Canterbury Cathedral today.


Of the many miracles performed by Bartholomew before and after his death, two very popular ones are known by the townsfolk of the small island of Lipari. When Bartholomew's body was found off the shore, the Bishop of Lipari ordered many men to take the body to the Cathedral. When this failed due to its extreme weight, the Bishop then sent out the children. The children easily brought the body ashore.

The people of Lipari celebrated his feast day annually. The tradition of the people was to take the solid silver and gold statue from inside the Cathedral of St Bartholomew and carry it through the town. On one occasion, when taking the statue down the hill towards the town, it suddenly got very heavy and had to be set down. When the men carrying the statue regained their strength they lifted it a second time. After another few seconds, it got even heavier. They set it down and attempted once more to pick it up. They managed to lift it but had to put it down one last time. Within seconds, walls further downhill collapsed. If the statue had been able to be lifted, all the townspeople would have been killed.

During World War II, the Fascist regime (German/Italian) looked for ways to finance their activities. The order was given to take the silver statue of St Bartholomew and melt it down. The statue was weighed, and it was found to be only several ounces. It was returned to its place in the Cathedral of Lipari. In reality, the statue is made from many pounds of silver and it is considered a miracle that it was not melted down.

St Bartholomew is credited with many other miracles having to do with the weight of objects.

Art and literature

Statue of St. Bartholomew, with his own skin, by Marco d'Agrate, 1562 (Duomo di Milano)

In works of art Bartholomew is often represented with a large knife, or, as in Michelangelo's Last Judgment, with his own skin hanging over his arm. Tradition in Armenia holds that in Caucasic Albania he was flayed alive and then crucified upside down for refusing to worship pagan gods. This fate led to him being adopted as the patron saint of tanners.

St Bartholomew plays a part in Francis Bacon's Utopian tale The New Atlantis, about a mythical isolated land Bensalem populated by a people dedicated to reason and natural philosophy. Some twenty years after the ascension of Christ the people of Bensalem found an ark floating off their shore. The ark contained a letter as well as the books of the Old and New Testaments. The letter was from Bartholomew the Apostle and declared that an angel told him to set the ark and its contents afloat. Thus the scientists of Bensalem received the revelation of the Word of God.[13]

See also

  • St Bartholomew's Hospital
  • St. Bartholomew's Day massacre
  • Beatty/Beattie surnames
  • Bartholomew Cubbins


  1. Green, Joel B.; Scot McKnight, I. Howard Marshall (1992). Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. The IVP Bible Dictionary Series. InterVarsity Press. pp. 180. ISBN 0830817778. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Encyclopedia Britannica, micropedia. vol. 1, p. 924. Chicago:Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1998. ISBN 0-85229-633-0.
  3. William Smith and Samuel Cheetham, A Dictionary of Christian Antiquities (1875) noted the "absence of any great amount of early trustworthy tradition."
  4. These Acta were published by Johann Albert Fabricius, Codex Apocryphus Novi Testimenti i. 341ff.
  5. Both noted, Ebedjesu as "Ebedjesu Sobiensis", in Smith and Cheetham, who give their source, Giuseppe Simone Assemani Bibliotheca Orientalis iii.i. pp. 30ff.
  6. Bartholomaeum cum Nathaniele confundunt Chaldaei Assemani, Bibliotheca Oriental;is, iii, pt 2, p. 5 (noted by Smith and Cheetham).
  7. John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew Volume 3, Doubleday, 2001. pp 199-200. ISBN 0-385-49663-4; for the identification see Benedict XVI, Udienza generale 4 October 2006.
  8. "THE CONDITION OF THE ARMENIAN HISTORICAL MONUMENTS IN TURKEY". Research on Armenian Architecture. 2008-10-01. Retrieved 2009-06-01. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 St. Bartholomew's mission in India
  10. Noted in Smith and Cheetham.
  11. Gregory, De Gloria Martyrum, i.33.
  12. Attwater, Donald and Catherine Rachel John. The Penguin Dictionary of Saints. 3rd edition. New York: Penguin Books, 1993. ISBN 0140513124.
  13. Text at Project Gutenberg

Other sources

  • Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.
  • Encyclopedia Anglicana, 1911
  • Dictionary of First Names, Patrick Hanks and Flavia Hodges. Oxford University Press, 1996
  • Attwater, Donald and Catherine Rachel John. The Penguin Dictionary of Saints. 3rd edition. New York: Penguin Books, 1993. ISBN 0140513124.

For a discussion of Baroque paintings of St. Bartholomew by the Spanish artist Ribera, see: Williamson, Mark A. "The Martyrdom Paintings of Jusepe de Ribera: Catharsis and Transformation", PhD Dissertation, Binghamton University, Binghamton, New York 2000 (available online at

External links

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