Saint Bartholomew

Feast Day: August 24

Saint Bartholomew



One of the Twelve Apostles, mentioned sixth in the three Gospel lists (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14), and seventh in the list of Acts (1:13).

    The name (Bartholomaios) means "son of Talmai" (or Tholmai) which was an ancient Hebrew name, borne, e.g. by the King of Gessur whose daughter was a wife of David (II Kings 3:3). It shows, at least, that Bartholomew was of Hebrew descent; it may have been his genuine proper name or simply added to distinguish him as the son of Talmai. Outside the instances referred to, no other mention of the name occurs in the New Testament.

    Nothing further is known of him for certain. Many scholars, however, identify him with Nathaniel (John 1:45-51; 21:2). The reasons for this are that Bartholomew is not the proper name of the Apostle; that the name never occurs in the Fourth Gospel, while Nathaniel is not mentioned in the synoptics; that Bartholomew's name is coupled with Philip's in the lists of Matthew and Luke, and found next to it in Mark, which agrees well with the fact shown by St. John that Philip was an old friend of Nathaniel's and brought him to Jesus; that the call of Nathaniel, mentioned with the call of several Apostles, seems to mark him for the apostolate, especially since the rather full and beautiful narrative leads one to expect some important development; that Nathaniel was of Galilee where Jesus found most, if not all, of the Twelve; finally, that on the occasion of the appearance of the risen Savior on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, Nathaniel is found present, together with several Apostles who are named and two unnamed Disciples who were, almost certainly, likewise Apostles (the word "apostle" not occurring in the Fourth Gospel and "disciple" of Jesus ordinarily meaning Apostle) and so, presumably, was one of the Twelve. This chain of circumstantial evidence is ingenious and pretty strong; the weak link is that, after all, Nathaniel may have been another personage in whom, for some reason, the author of the Fourth Gospel may have been particularly interested, as he was in Nicodemus, who is likewise not named in the synoptics.

    No mention of St. Bartholomew occurs in ecclesiastical literature before Eusebius, who mentions that Pantaenus, the master of Origen, while evangelizing India, was told that the Apostle had preached there before him and had given to his converts the Gospel of St. Matthew written in Hebrew, which was still treasured by the Church. "India" was a name covering a very wide area, including even Arabia Felix. Other traditions represent St. Bartholomew as preaching in Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt, Armenia, Lycaonia, Phrygia, and on the shores of the Black Sea; one legend, it is interesting to note, identifies him with Nathaniel. The manner of his death, said to have occurred at Albanopolis in Armenia, is equally uncertain; according to some, he was beheaded, according to others, flayed alive and crucified, head downward, by order of Astyages, for having converted his brother, Polymius, King of Armenia. On account of this latter legend, he is often represented in art (e.g. in Michelangelo's Last Judgment) as flayed and holding in his hand his own skin. His relics are thought by some to be preserved in the church of St. Bartholomew-in-the-Island, at Rome. His feast is celebrated on 24 August. An apocryphal gospel of Bartholomew existed in the early ages.

LE CAMUS, Vie de Notre Seigneur (tr. New York, 1906), I; IDEM in VIG., Dict. de la Bible, where references are given for the sources of the traditions, FOUARD, Life of Christ (New York, 1891).

Saint Bartholomew

by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876

The Gospel gives us no other account of St. Bartholomew, than that he was joined by our Saviour to those men whom He called as Apostles, and chose to convert mankind. Hence, with the others, he followed the Divine Teacher, and learned from Him the doctrine which he afterwards preached to the nations. The life of this saint, after the ascension of Christ, is described by authentic writers as follows. When the Holy Apostles, after the Holy Ghost had descended upon them, dispersed to preach the gospel to the whole world, St. Bartholomew was sent into East India and the neighboring countries. He repaired thither, not without great hardship, and wandering through cities and villages, he everywhere converted great numbers of the heathen. Having provided all these places with priests, he journeyed to Greater Armenia.

Arriving at the capital of this state, he repaired first to the grand temple of the idol Asteroth, where he found a great many blind, deaf, lame, and otherwise disabled persons, who were praying to this god to restore their health. Some were helped, others not. The devil, as he afterwards confessed, at the command of St. Bartholomew, had first, by witchcraft or other means, made these persons blind, deaf, or lame, and when they sought help in his temple, he destroyed the spell cast upon them, or used natural means to restore their health, while they believed that their god had helped them. Satan used also to speak by the image of this idol, and reply to those who questioned him. From the moment, however, when the Holy Apostle entered the temple, the devil had become silent, and answered not a word.

To the Armenians, this silence was incomprehensible; hence they asked the idol of another temple the reason of it. Satan, by the mouth of the image, said that Bartholomew, an Apostle of the true God, was the cause of it, and that the same would happen to him as soon as this Apostle should come into his temple. The idolatrous priest desired to know who this Apostle was, and by what means they could recognize him. Satan described him most minutely, adding that he prayed a hundred times during the day and as many times during the night. They immediately sought for St. Bartholomew, and found him just after he had delivered a man possessed of the devil; for Satan cried with a loud voice, that he was tormented by the prayers of St. Bartholomew, and forced to give way. After the idolaters had thus become acquainted with the Saint, they began to deliberate what they should do with him.

Meanwhile, Polymius, the king, whose daughter was also possessed by the Evil One, and who had heard of the deliverance of the one mentioned above, sent to the Apostle, humbly requesting him to come and free his daughter in a like manner. Bartholomew said a short prayer, after which he commanded Satan, in the name of Jesus Christ, to leave the body of the possessed, which was instantly done. The joy of the king and the whole court, and the astonishment of the people of the city, were indescribably great. The king, to show his gratitude to the Saint, offered him a large sum of money and many other presents. St. Bartholomew accepted nothing, saying: "I am not here to seek gold and silver, but to convert the people, and lead souls to the knowledge of the true faith and to heaven." After this he began to speak to the king and courtiers of the only true God, and explained to them how the only-begotten Son of God, by His sufferings and death, had redeemed the world. He told them fearlessly, that the gods which they all worshipped were false gods, nay, nothing but spirits of hell, and to prove this he proposed to force the devil himself, who until now had spoken to them through the idol, publicly to confess the same.

The king, went on the following day, with all his courtiers, to the temple. St. Bartholomew came also, and asked the idol Asteroth, in the name of Jesus Christ, to say who he was. The devil began to lament and to howl, but at last, forced by the divine power, confessed that he was one of the spirits of hell, who had, until then, wickedly deceived the king and the people. He said further, that there was only one true God, Who was He whom St. Bartholomew, His Apostle, preached and adored. All present looked at each other and knew not what to think or what to say. The holy Apostle then commanded the devil to leave the idols, and destroy them all, without exception, throughout the whole city. The devil obeyed, and the idols of the city fell from their altars and were dashed to pieces. This sufficed to convince the king that St. Bartholomew was a proclaimer of the truth, and after being instructed in the Christian faith, he and his wife and children were baptized. The example of the king was followed by the whole court, and by most of the inhabitants of the capital; and not long after the twelve principal cities of the state became converted to Christianity. To preserve so large a number of faithful in the church, St. Bartholomew ordained many priests, and appointed them to take charge of the new converts.

This glorious victory of the gospel left only the idolatrous priests stubborn in their error, and as, after the downfall of their idols, they were despised and derided, they thought of means to revenge themselves on the holy Apostle. And when many plans had failed, they turned their eyes upon Astyages, a brother of King Polymius, who reigned over the other part of Armenia, and accused St. Bartholomew before him as an enemy and disturber of the land, who had even succeeded in seducing the king and the whole court, and who was intent upon entirely exterminating the ancient worship of the gods. Astyages, in whose weak mind idolatry had taken deep root, resolved to avenge the wrong which had been done to the gods. He called the holy Apostle to his court under the pretext of hearing his instructions. No sooner, however, had the holy man made his appearance, than the tyrant threatened him with the most cruel torments and the most terrible death, if he did not immediately sacrifice to the gods.


Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew

St. Bartholomew endeavored to convince him of the nothingness of his gods, but the tyrant would not listen, and commanded the executioners to seize the Saint, and tear the skin from his whole body, and thus slowly put him to death. The order was executed, and the holy Apostle was flayed alive. During this inhuman torture the Saint ceased not to praise God and to proclaim the true faith. God preserved his life miraculously until the skin was torn from his whole body, and as he still continued to declare the true God, the tyrant had him beheaded. The Almighty, however, visibly punished the king and the idolatrous priests, who had instigated this fearful cruelty. They all became possessed of the Evil One, and after having been tormented by him for thirty days, they were strangled. The holy body of the Martyr was placed by the Christians in a leaden coffin, and was buried with all due honors. In the course of time the pagans cast the leaden coffin with the relics of St. Bartholomew into the sea; but the waves miraculously supported it and carried it to the island of Lipari, the Christian inhabitants of which received the sacred deposit with joy, and placed it in a church erected for the purpose. Thence this sacred treasure was brought to Benevento, and finally, in the reign of Otho II., it was transported to Rome, where it is kept at this day in great honor.


I. Bartholomew, the holy Apostle, threw himself on his knees a hundred times during the day, and as often at night, to pray to the Almighty. An Apostle found leisure for this, though overburdened with work and assured of divine aid in all his undertakings. You have not so much work, neither are you assured of divine aid, and yet you seldom take refuge in prayer to the Almighty. What is the reason of this? You are perhaps, one of those negligent persons, who do not even think of their morning and evening prayers, but like dumb brutes rise and lie down again. Of course, it never comes into your mind to pray during the day. Do you call that, I will not say, a Christian, but even a rational life? Will you go on in this manner? I do not require of you to bend your knees a hundred times during the day and night, but I advise you to pray more frequently and more devoutly than you have done heretofore.

Before all things, do not omit to turn your thoughts to heaven, morning and evening, if only for one short prayer. If ever you omit to do this, let it be on those days when you need no benefits from the Almighty. But when will such a day dawn? Surely, never as long as you live; for there is no day in which neither your soul nor your body may be exposed to such dangers as to require the assistance of the Most High. Hence it is no more than your duty to pray in the morning most fervently for this divine assistance. And as no day passes on which the Almighty bestows no grace on you either in soul or body, it is therefore no less your duty at the close of the day to offer Him your grateful thanks. During the night, you are as little secure from the persecutions of the evil one, and of wicked men, as during the day; hence, you need God's protection at night as well as in the day. But how can you expect this aid, if you do not even ask for it? "We rise in the morning," says St. Chrysostom, "and know not what may happen to us through the day; we live surrounded by danger: why then, do we not call on God for help?" Let it at least be done morning and night, and also during the day, while you are at your work.

Hear the words of St. Lawrence Justinian: "Nothing is so powerful to overcome the rage of our enemies as continual prayer. But as other affairs do not permit us to pray continually, we ought to pray during our work. He who is occupied with good works, prays to God with a loud voice, though his tongue is silent. We ought, nevertheless, to endeavor, before we begin our day's labor, to send a prayer on high. For, as a soldier without his weapons dares not enter the field of battle, so a Christian should begin nothing without arming himself with prayer. When going out and returning home, prayer should accompany him. He should not lie down to rest before having recommended himself, soul and body, to the Almighty."

II. St. Bartholomew rather suffered himself to be flayed than offend God by sacrificing to an idol. The martyrdom was inhuman, the pain inexpressibly great. But all this had an end; all was soon over. Had he acted differently, had he offended God, he would have escaped this dreadful torture, but he would now be suffering much greater pains, and such as never end; as the tyrant and those idolatrous priests suffer, who were the cause of his martyrdom. They were tormented during thirty days on earth, and after that, they have suffered in hell until now, and will suffer for all eternity. Hence, tell me, if you had to suffer, either with the holy Apostle, or with the idolatrous priests and the tyrant, with whom would you rather share the pains? I believe that you would certainly prefer to be flayed with St. Bartholomew; for, his sufferings, although so terrible, ended, and, in comparison with the pains of hell, were but very trifling. I ask you further: why then have you so frequently offended God when you had not to fear torments?

Why have you voluntarily placed yourself in danger of being cast forever into the torments of hell? Ah! you cannot have considered the pains, the torments which attend the sinner in hell! Think seriously of it in future, and you will not sin, and will therefore escape hell. To think frequently of hell, is a powerful means to escape it; and to forget it, casts many into the whirlpool of sin, and thence into hell. St. Chrysostom writes of the rich man as follows: "If this man had thought of the fire of hell, he would never have sinned: but never calling it to mind, he sinned, and thus was cast into the flames." Hence I advise you to think often of hell.

Be Thou, O Lord, eternally praised and blessed, for having communicated Thy spirit to the holy prophets and apostles, disclosing to them admirable secrets, redounding to Thy glory and our great good. We firmly believe their word, because it is Thine. Give us, we beseech Thee, the happiness to understand their instructions, and so conform our lives thereto, that at the hour of death we may merit to be received by Thee into the mansions of eternal bliss.

Hymn: Exsultet orbis
Now let the earth with joy resound,
And heaven the chant re-echo round;
Nor heaven nor earth too high can raise
The great Apostle's glorious praise.

O ye who, throned in glory dread,
Shall judge the living and the dead,
Lights of the world forevermore!
To you the suppliant prayer we pour.

Ye close the sacred gates on high;
At your command apart they fly:
O loose for us the guilty chain
We strive to break, and strive in vain.

Sickness and health your voice obey;
At your command they go or stay:
From sin's disease our souls restore;
In good confirm us more and more.

So when the world is at its end,
And Christ to Judgment shall descend,
May we be called those joys to see
Prepared from all eternity.

All honor, laud, and glory be,
O Jesu, Virgin-born, to thee;
All glory, as is ever meet,
To Father and to Paraclete. Amen.

(Roman Breviary)

Saint Bartholomew, Apostle *
from the Liturgical Year, 1903
A witness of the Son of God, one of the princes who announced His glory to the nations, lights up this day with his apostolic flame. While his brethren of the sacred College followed the human race into all the lands whither the migration of nations had led it, Bartholomew appeared as the herald of the Lord, at the very starting point, the mountains of Armenia whence the sons of Noe spread over the earth. There had the figurative Ark rested; humanity, everywhere else a wanderer, was there seated in stillness, remembering the dove with its olive branch, and awaiting the consummation of the alliance signified by the rainbow which had there for the first time glittered in the clouds.

Personally, what was this Apostle whose ministry borrowed such solemnity from the scene of his apostolic labours? Under the name, or surname of Bartholomew (Son of Tholmai), the only mark of recognition given him by the first three Gospels, are we to see, as many have thought, that Nathaniel, whose presentation to Jesus by Philip forms so sweet a scene in St. John's Gospel (St. John, i. 45-51)?--a man full of uprightness, innocence and simplicity who was worthy to have had the dove for his precursor, and for whom the Man-God had choice graces and caresses from the very beginning.

Be this as it may, the lot which fell to our Saint among the twelve, points to the special confidence of the divine Heart; the heroism of the terrible martyrdom which sealed his apostolate, reveals his fidelity; the dignity preserved by the nation he grafted on Christ, in all the countries where it has been transplanted, witnesses to the excellence of the sap first infused into its branches. When, two centuries and a half later, Gregory the Illuminator so successfully cultivated the soil of Armenia, he did but quicken the seed sown by the Apostle, which the trials never wanting to that generous land, had retarded for a time, but could not stifle.

We learn from Eusebius and from St. Jerome, that before going to Armenia, his final destination, St. Bartholomew evangelised the Indies, where Pantainus a century later found a copy of St. Matthew's Gospel in Hebrew characters, left there by him.
The Church gives us the following notice of the Apostle of Armenia.

The Apostle Bartholomew was a native of Galilee. It fell to his lot to preach the Gospel in hither India; and he announced to those nations the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the Gospel of St. Matthew. But after converting many souls to Jesus Christ in that province and undergoing much labour and suffering he went into Eastern Armenia.

Here he converted to the Christian faith the king Polymius and his queen and twelve cities. This caused the pagan priests of that nation to be exceedingly jealous of him, and they stirred up Astyages the brother of king Polymius against the Apostle, so that he commanded him to be flayed alive and finally beheaded. In this cruel martyrdom he gave up his soul to God.

His body was buried at Albanapolis, the town of Eastern Armenia where he was martyred; but it was afterwards taken to the island of Lispari, and thence to Beneventum. Finally it was translated to Rome by the Emperor Otho III. and placed on the island of the Tiber in a Church dedicated to God under his invocation. His feast is kept at Rome on the 8th of the Kalends of September and during the eight following days that Basilica is much frequented by the faithful.


On this day of the feast, O holy Apostle, the Church prays for grace to love what thou didst believe and to preach what thou didst teach. Not that the Bride of the Son of God could ever fail either in faith or love; but she knows only too well that, though her Head is ever in the light, and her heart ever united to the Spouse in the Holy Spirit who sanctifies her, nevertheless her several members, the particular churches of which she is composed, may detach themselves from their centre of life and wander away in darkness.

O thou who didst choose our West as the place of thy rest; thou whose precious relics Rome glories in possessing, bring back to Peter the nations thou didst evangelize; fulfil the now reviving hopes of universal union; second the efforts made by the Vicar of the Man-God to gather again under the shepherd's crook those scattered flocks whose pastures have become parched by schism. May thine own Armenia be the first to complete a return which she began long ago: may she trust the Mother-Church and no more follow the sowers of discord. All being reunited, may we together enjoy the treasures of our concordant traditions, and go to God, even at the cost of being despoiled of all things, by the course so grand and yet so simple taught us by thy example and by thy sublime theology.

Prayer to Saint Bartholomew the Apostle

O Glorious Saint Bartholomew, Jesus called you a person without guile and you saw in this word a sign that he was the Son of God and King of Israel. Obtain for us the grace to be ever guileless and innocent as doves. At the same time, help us to have your gift of faith to see the Divine hand in the events of daily life. May we discern the signs of the times that lead to Jesus on earth and will eventually unite us to him forever in heaven. Amen.

Some text courtesy of catholicharboroffaithandmorals