(1st century A.D.)
Today’s saint’s name is a patronymic. “Bar” means “son of,” so “Tolomai” would have been his father. Scholars believe he actually is the Nathanael mentioned in John.
He hailed from Cana in Galilee and was one of the first disciples called by the Lord. Bartholomew was a doctor in the Jewish law, when he was brought before Jesus by his good friend St. Philip. On that initial meeting Jesus recognized Bartholomew’s openness to the “truth” and famously said, “Behold, an Israelite indeed in whom there is no guile!”
After the Resurrection, Bartholomew was one of the few apostles who witnessed the appearance of the risen Savior on the Sea of Galilee (John 21:2). Following the Ascension, he is said to have preached in Greater Armenia and to have been martyred there. While still alive, his skin was flayed from his body. The Armenians honor him as the apostle of their nation. The Martyrology says: “His holy body was first taken to the island of Lipari (north of Sicily), then to Benevento, and finally to Rome on an island in the Tiber where it is honored by the faithful with pious devotion.”
The Church of Armenia has a national tradition that St. Jude Thaddeus and St. Bartholomew visited the Armenians early in the first century and introduced Christianity among the worshippers of the god Ahura Mazda. The new faith spread throughout the land, and in 302 A.D., St. Gregory the Illuminator baptized the king of Armenia, Dertad the Great, along with many of his followers. Since Dertad was the first ruler to embrace Christianity for his nation, the Armenians proudly claim they were the first Christian State.
Bartholomew is the patron of bookbinders; butchers; cobblers; Florentine cheese merchants; Florentine salt merchants; leather workers; nervous diseases; neurological diseases; plasterers; shoemakers; tanners and trappers; as well as the town of Gambatesa, Italy and the country of Armenia.
In art he is often portrayed as an elderly man holding a tanner’s knife and a human skin or a skinless man holding his own skin. His symbols are a flaying or tanner’s knife and book; three vertical flaying or tanner’s knives; human skin; human skin on a cross; devil under his feet; St. Matthew’s Gospel; scimitar or a cross.
Adapted by A.J. Valentini