Saint Bartholomew, Apostle
By Paula Emmett
St. Bartholomew was born in the first century; he was one of the twelve Apostles.
His feast day is celebrated on August 24th. Bartholomew in Hebrew means “son of Tolomai.” Scholars believe that Bartholomew is the same Nathanael that is mentioned in the Gospel of Saint John. In the Gospel of John, (Chapter 1: 45-51) Nathanael (Bartholomew) 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 from Nazareth?” but nonetheless he follows Philip’s invitation. Jesus immediately characterizes him; “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 (Chapter 21:2) as one of the disciples to whom Jesus appears at the Sea of Galilee after the resurrection.
Eusebius of Caesarea’s Ecclesiastical History states that after the Ascension, Bartholomew went on a missionary trip 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. Along with his fellow apostle Jude, Bartholomew is reported to have brought Christianity to Armenia in the first century. Both Saint Bartholomew and Saint Jude are considered the patron saints of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Christian tradition has three accounts about Saint Bartholomew’s death. One speaks of him being kidnapped, beaten unconscious, and thrown into the sea to drown. Another account states that he was crucified upside down, and yet another says that he was skinned alive and beheaded in Albac or Albanopolis, near Bashkale, Turkey. The account of Saint Bartholomew being skinned alive is the most represented in works of art, and consequently Saint Bartholomew is often shown with a large knife in one hand, holding his own skin in the other.
Of the many miracles Saint Bartholomew performed before and after his death, two very popular ones are known to townsfolk in the small island if Lipari. Annually, the people of Lipari celebrate Saint Bartholomew’s feast day. The tradition of the people of Lipari was to take the solid silver and gold statue of Saint Bartholomew from inside of the cathedral and carry it through the town. On one occasion, when taking the statue down the hill towards the town, it suddenly became very heavy and the men had to put the statue down. When the men carrying the statue regained their strength they lifted the statue a second time. After another few seconds it got even heavier. They set the statue down and attempted to start up again but had to place the statue back down. Within a few seconds the walls further down the hill collapsed. If the statue had been lifted and the men continued with the parade down hill towards the town they would have all been killed. During World War II, the Fascist regime in Germany and Italy looked for ways to finance their activities. The order was given to take the silver statue of Saint Bartholomew and melt it down. The statue was weighed, and it was found to be only a few grams. It was returned to its place in the Cathedral of Lipari. In reality, the statue is made from many kilograms of silver and it is considered a miracle that it was not melted down.
If Saint Bartholomew was alive today I think he would continue to bring Christianity to the world. He would continue to teach us the way to Christ and how to live a Christian life as we should everyday. For myself, I know that I am weak in my faith and I don’t think I would be able to defend our faith as I should. In our world today we continue to be persecuted in so many ways similar to the way they killed Saint Bartholomew. It is happening to our children in their mother’s wombs; we as a Christian society don’t do enough to end the slaughtering of babies through abortion. I also believe that if Saint Bartholomew were alive today he would bring to us a great knowledge and experience none of us will ever know: that of having lived with Jesus Christ.