Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism



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.

Michelangelo's Last Judgement

Michelangelo’s Last Judgement.

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.’

Author: Gareth Hughes

A priest of the Church of England, who is Chaplain of Hertford College, Oxford, and doing Syriac research at Oxford University.

4 thoughts on “Bartholomew

  1. Pingback: Aug 24 – Saint Bartholomew | Holy Women, Holy Men

  2. Having just researched Bartholomew for a sermon on Sunday, in spite of what might appear on the internet, Canterbury Cathedral no longer has any relic of this apostle for the veneration of the faithful! It’s also tragically interesting that the monastery (now in Turkey) where his martyred remains were believed to have been buried is in the region of the Armenian genocide and now on the edge of the IS massacres.

  3. Gareth – do you know this little rhyme by the late Eric Mascall ?
    Beneath a Jewish fig tree
    sat a very pious Jew
    And if you then had asked his name
    He’d say “Bartholomew”
    But then the higher critics came
    with “L” and “M” and “Q”
    And if you now would ask his name
    He hasn’t got a clue”

  4. I was preaching yesterday and found Bartholomew’s massacre a useful jumping off point to
    remind us that Chrstianity had its version of international ‘terrorism’ for a couple of centuries [at least]
    Even in my life time, my father in law was a protestant Irishman whose father was a smalltime ulster farmer who became bishop of an English diorcese [and ordained me too]..
    When he was in town if he saw a Roman priest walking his way he would cross the road to avoid having to make the usual pleasantries.
    The Dean of my Cambridge college was the most peaceable of men and another Irish episcopalian – he spent most of last war in a German prison camp and afterwards could not look a pack of cards in the face ! But during the original ‘troubles’ the IRA
    invaded his family home , marched his family outside and gunned them down. After that he would not be in a room with a Roman Catholic. In sixty years of ministry I have observed the gradual chipping away of this aversion [thank God] and I often found
    my RC priest neighbours were better friends than my Anglican brothers [no sisters then]
    But I remember this conversation when doing a pastoral call on an oldish couple in Burnley in the 1960s when the first big debate about going into Europe was going on.
    Wife: Our Joe [him] doesn’t believe in all this Treaty of Rome business Vicar
    Me> Oh – why not ?
    she: He thinks we should stay protestants !
    [yes guaranteed first hand evidence!
    Another genuine pastoral comment.
    “I could never be friends with roman Catholics vicar
    Why not ?
    “Well it was Roman soldiers that nailed Jesus to the cross weren’t it ?”
    That was about 1966 – we often err in our suppositions about the level of public information.
    It wouldn’t happen today because nobody is interested in inter-Christian squabbles any longer – jihad has taken over.
    Yesterdays gospel reminded us that what attracts men is the prospect of power – religion becomes a useful label for them to adopt.
    The apostles argued who was goingto have the top job in Jesus’ cabinet – they glimpsed the prospect of having power and influence when Jesus became King. Jesus put them right – but Christians have typically ignored his instructions .e

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