St. Bartholomew and His Day
Bartholomew is listed in the synoptic gospels as one of the Twelve, likewise in the list given in the book of Acts. Apart from these references we know nothing else for certain about this man. Some have conjectured that he is the same as Nathaniel (John 1:45-51; 21:2), and early legends also testify to this. The thought is that Bartholomew is most likely a surname. It literally means “Son of Thalamai”. We also know that Philip and Nathaniel were friends according to John’s account, and in the synoptic lists, Bartholomew is listed with Philip. Perhaps then, the synoptic authors referred to this man by his last name, while John remembers him according to his first name, though all of this is conjecture. Eusebius is the earliest record of anything regarding Bartholomew, and there it is recorded that he was a missionary to India who left the gospel of Matthew in Hebrew with new converts there. Accounts vary with regard to Bartholomew’s death. Some legends record that Bartholomew was beheaded while most others recount that he was flayed alive before being crucified upsidedown. Apparently this latter legend is why he is pictured flayed and holding his own skin in Michelangelo Last Judgment.
It should not be forgotten that it was also on this same day, a millennium and a half later, in 1572, that Catherine de Medici ordered the slaughter of an estimated 100,000 Huguenots, French protestants, an event remembered in history as the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. Despite the bloodbath, Pope Gregory XIII responded by congratulating the Queen of France and minted a special medallion in her honor, commemorating her “holy” deed.
Because of the way it is believed that Bartholomew died, a knife has consequently become the emblem of St. Bartholomew and can be seen in many old almanacs. At the abbey of Croyland, one source says that there used to be a distribution of knives each St. Bartholomew’s Day, in honor of the saint, a custom which I say ought to be revived.
The fact that this day often inaugurates cooler weather in many places is expressed in a popular distich:
Brings the cold dew.”
A Collect for St. Bartholomew’s Day:
Almighty and most merciful God, who gave your faithful servant Bartholomew the grace to heed your call to discipleship and give his life in service to your Son, grant that we, together with all your saints, may take up our crosses daily and follow after Jesus, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, unto ages of ages, Amen!