Any Friend of Jesus’ is a Friend of Mine. And this week, we remember one of Jesus’ closest friends—one of the Twelve, in fact—St. Bartholomew.
This is a guy we really don’t know much about. In fact, it seems like the more we learn, the more confusing the story becomes!
WHAT WAS HIS NAME? In the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), he is called Bartholomew, and he is summoned along with Philip to follow Jesus. In the Gospel of John, though, he is called by another name, “Nathaniel” (or “Nathanael”). One historian has even written, “The Chaldeans confound Bartholomew with Nathaniel.”
WHAT DID HE DO? Bartholomew has no significant speaking part in the Gospels. In the Gospel of John, it is Bartholomew (or Nathaniel, as he’s called there) who is first skeptical and asks, “What good can come out of Nazareth?” He becomes convinced, though, and follows. Jesus, seeing his trusting nature, says of Nathaniel, “Here is a man in whom there is no deception.”
It was Nathaniel/Bartholomew to whom Jesus said, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” He understands then that Jesus is the Son of God.
Bartholomew/Nathaniel shows up one more time at the end of John’s gospel, and was one of the apostles present when Jesus appeared at the Sea of Galilee, after the Resurrection.
HOW DID HE DIE? Bartholomew is believed to have been martyred in Albanopolis, in Armenia—and so is the patron saint of Armenia. There is even some confusion as to how he died: Some accounts suggest that he was beheaded, while others say that he was kidnapped, beaten unconscious, and thrown in the sea to drown.
The most popular tradition, though, is that Bartholomew was flayed (skinned alive) and crucified upside down. It is that last scenario— Bartholomew holding his own skin—that is depicted in Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgment” (top) and in this statue (bottom) by Marco d’Agrate, which can be seen at the Duomo, the cathedral, in Milan.
His feastday is celebrated on August 24.
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.