Bartholomew is named as one of the Twelve Disciples in all three synoptic gospels, and always is paired with Philip (Mark 3·18, Matthew 10·3 and Luke 6·14; though he is paired with Matthew in Acts 1·13). Bartholomew does not appear in the Gospel of John, and his place with Philip is instead taken by Nathanael, who is brought to Jesus by Nathanael (John 1·45). Seeing as Nathanael does not occur in the synoptics, there is an ancient tradition of considering Bartholomew and Nathanael to be one and the same person.
Eusebius of Caesarea (EH V.x) tells us that, in the late second century, Pantaenus of Alexandria was a Stoic philosopher and a missionary to India and found that he had been preceded by Bartholomew as missionary in that place, and Bartholomew had brought there Matthew’s writings in Hebrew script (which could mean Aramaic). The term ‘India’ was rather imprecise, and other legends place Bartholomew in Ethiopia, Mesopotamia, Parthia or Anatolia. Armenian Christians believe that Bartholomew along with Thaddaeus brought Christianity to Armenia, where Bartholomew converted the king, which led to the king’s brother ordering his execution. In tradition, Bartholomew was flayed and then either crucified upside down or beheaded. In line with popular ‘martyrological torture porn’, Michelangelo depicted Bartholomew as a loose bag of flayed skin in the Last Judgement scene of the Sistine Chapel. The thirteenth-century Armenian monastery of St Bartholomew (Սուրբ Բարթողոմէօս Վանք Surb Bartʿoɬomēos Vankʿ) in Başkale, Turkey’s Van Province, is said to be built at the place of his martyrdom. However, the ancient city of Derbent on the Caspian Sea (Dagestan, Russian Federation) is also a candidate. Various places claim relics of Bartholomew, including Canterbury Cathedral, which claims an arm given it by Queen Emma, consort of King Cnut. This and his appearance in Felix’s Life of Guthlac may explain Bartholomew’s popularity in England: there are 165 ancient churches dedicated to him.
Bartholomew’s name is rendered Βαρθολομαῖος (Bartholomaîos) in the Greek of the gospels, and this is usually considered to represent the Aramaic Bar Tōlmai or Talmai (בַּר תֹּלְמַי or תַּלְמַי), son of Tolmai’ or ‘Talmai’. The name may be associated with the two Talmais of the Old Testament (Numbers 13·22, Joshua 15·14, Judges 1·10; II Samuel 3·3, 13·37, I Chronicles 3·2). The meaning of the name is disputed. In Christian Palestinian Aramaic the word talam (ܬܠܡ) means ‘furrow’, and in Syriac talmā (ܬܲܠܡܵܐ) is a narrow-necked jar. Usually, it is understood that Bartholomew’s name may be translated as ‘son of the furrows’, that is a farmer.
On 23 August 1572, the Eve of Bartholomew, a great massacre of Huguenots began in Paris in what was subsequently named the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre: thousands were murdered for their religion. On 24 August 1662, the Act of Uniformity became English law, and is occasionally known as the Bartholomew Act; it prescribed the Book of Common Prayer and led to the ejection of around two-thousand clergy from the church. The Bartholomew Fair was held annually around this time at West Smithfield from 1133 to 1855; it is the subject of Ben Johnson’s comedy Bartholmew Fair. Francis Bacon’s novel The New Atlantis describes a utopian society on a distant island who received the Christian Gospel from an ark that washed ashore containing the Old and New Testaments and a letter from its sender, St Bartholomew
‘I, Bartholomew, a servant of the Highest, and Apostle of Jesus Christ, was warned by an angel that appeareth to me, in a vision of glory, that I should commit this ark to the floods of the sea. Therefore I do testify and declare unto that people where God shall ordain this ark to come to land, that in the same day is come unto them salvation and peace and good-will, from the Father, and from the Lord Jesus.’