St Bartholomew, Apostle (Feast)
Bartholomew was one of the twelve Apostles of Jesus. The name in Aramaic, bar-Tôlmay (תולמי-בר), means ‘son of Tolmay’ (Ptolemy) or ‘son of the furrows’ (perhaps a ploughman). Hence it has been suggested that it is the family name and not his given name. Talmai or Tolmay was an ancient Hebrew name, borne, for example, by King of Gessur whose daughter was a wife of David (2 Samuel 3:3). It shows that Bartholomew was of Hebrew descent
Apart from this, nothing is known of his origins. He is listed among the Twelve Apostles in the Synoptic gospels (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14) and appears as a witness of the Ascension in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:4,12,13).
It was not until about 9th century that Bartholomew began to be linked with Nathanael, a disciple of Jesus only mentioned in John’s gospel and it was suggested that they were one and the same person. 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 mentioned together but the name of Bartholomew does not appear. Many biblical commentators reject this hypothesis.
In the gospel of John (John 1:45-51), Nathanael is introduced as a friend of Philip. He is described as initially being sceptical about Jesus as Messiah with the dismissive comment, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nevertheless, he accepts Philip’s invitation and goes to see Jesus, who on seeing him, says, “Here is a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit”. A remark, which in view of what Nathanael has just said about Jesus, bowls him over. Jesus continues by saying cryptically that, before Philip had called him, Jesus had seen Nathanael “under the fig tree”. There is speculation among scholars on the exact meaning of this statement but it causes Nathanael to address the man from Nazareth as “the Son of God” and “King of Israel”.
Nathanael reappears at the end of John’s gospel (John 21:2) as one of seven disciples to whom the Risen Jesus appeared at the Sea of Tiberias.
All in all, even if Bartholomew and Nathanael are one and the same, we are left with only a very small amount of information about this Apostle.
There are, of course, as with all the very early figures in the Church’s history, many legends about Bartholomew. According to a Syriac tradition, his original name was Jesus, which made him adopt another name.
Eusebius of Caesarea’s Ecclesiastical History says 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 have him as a missionary in Ethiopia, Mesopotamia, Parthia, and Lycaonia.
Then, along with his fellow Apostle Jude, he is said to have brought Christianity to Armenia. Both saints are now considered patron saints of the Armenian Apostolic Church. There is also a local tradition that he was martyred at the site of the Maiden Tower in Baku, Azerbaijan, by being skinned alive and then (like Peter) crucified head down.
His dead body is said to have been washed to Lipari, a small island off the coast of Sicily, where a large piece of his skin and many bones are kept in the Cathedral of St. Bartholomew the Apostle. In 983 Holy Roman Emperor Otto II brought his relics to the basilica of San Bartolomeo all’Isola in Rome. Because this church later took over an old pagan medical centre, Bartholomew’s name came to be associated with medicine and hospitals.
Some of his skull was said to have been transferred to Frankfurt in Germany, while an arm is venerated in Canterbury Cathedral.
In works of art he is often represented with a large knife, or, as in Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, with his own skin hanging over his arm. His being skinned alive led to his being adopted as the patron saint of tanners and leather workers.