Saint Bartholomew the Apostle

Bartholomew appears in the New Testament simply as one of the twelve apostles listed in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and against in Acts.  The name is a patronymic representing the Aramaic bar Tolmai, “son of Tolmai [Ptolmey]” (cf. Simon Bar-jonah in in Matthew 16).  Bar-tholomew may therefore have another, personal name.  In the Synoptic lists he is joined with Philip.  In the Fourth Gospel, however, Philip is associated with Nathanael rather than Bartholomew, and it is sometimes suggested that the apostle’s given name was Nathanael.  The identification of Nathanael with Bartholomew, dating from the ninth century, is reflected in the Roman Catholic and Lutheran Gospel for the day…Nathanael was from the town of Cana in Galilee where Jesus performed his first miracle.  He was invited to discipleship by Philip, who told him that he and Andrew and Peter had found the Messiah in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  At first Nathanael was doubtful, but after a word from Jesus, he followed.  Early patristic writers suggest that Nathanael was not one of the Twelve and stands in Saint John’s Gospel as a representative of Israel coming to God.

The story of his call (John 1) is all that is recorded in the New Testament of the life of Nathanael, but there are several traditions about the life and labors of Bartholomew.  Some sources credit Bartholomew with having written a Gospel, the existence of which was known to Jerome and Bede, but which is now lost.  Bartholomew is variously reported to have preached in Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, Persia, and India.  In connection with India, Eusebius says that Bartholomew left a copy of the Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew that Pantaenus of Alexandria, a missionary of the latter half of the second century, found there in the hands of the local people.  Most of these traditions agree that Saint Bartholomew spent his last years preaching in Armenia and that he was flayed and beheaded in Albanus (modern Derbend) on the Caspian coast.  [In Western iconography he is traditionally represented holding a flaying knife, one of the instruments of his martyrdom.]  The Armenian Church commemorates him on two days during the year:  once together with Saint Thaddeus and again together with another Armenian martyr.

A very different tradition of Bartholomew’s mission appears in the traditions of the Coptic and Ethiopian churches, who also revere him highly, observing his feast day on August 29.  Their accounts tell of his preaching at an oasis in Upper Egypt (there is a special commemoration of the event on November 15), then going among the Berbers where he was rescued from wild beasts by a cannibal, and finally preaching along the coast of North Africa where a local king, Agrippa, had him sewn into a leather bag and dropped into the sea.

Bartholomew’s relics are venerated in the tenth-century Church of Saint Bartholomew on the island Isola Tiberina in Rome.  He is the patron of the city and cathedral of Frankfurt, which claims to possess his skull.  [Emma, the wife of the Danish Cnut, king of England and Denmark, gave an arm of Saint Bartholomew to Canterbury Cathedral in the eleventh century, which probably contributed to the diffusion of his veneration in England.]

August 24 has been Saint Bartholomew’s feast day on calendars of the Western Church since the eighth century, but the reason for the date is not known.  The Eastern Orthodox Churches commemorate him with Saint Barnabas on June 11[, and the Church of the East in Persia commemorated him on June 13].

In European history Saint Bartholomew’s Day is remembered for the massacre of Reformed Protestants (Huguenots) that took place on this day in Paris in 1572.

taken from The New Book of Festivals and Commemorations
(Philip H. Pfatteicher), with additions

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, who gave to your apostle Bartholomew grace truly to believe and to preach your Word: Grant that your Church may love what he believed and preach what he taught; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The icon of Saint Bartholomew was painted by Antonio da Venezia, c. 1376.


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Filed under Holy Days: Other Major Feasts

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