Happy Saint Bartholomew’s Day. August 24

The Last Judgment. Michelangelo.

Exactly three years ago, I had a ten-hour Sunday stopover in Frankfurt on the way to Rome. Rather than waste the day in the terminal, I jumped on a train and walked through Frankfurt’s drab downtown. Fortunately, I heard church bells off in the distance and decided to walk in the direction of the bells tolling.

As it turned out, the Dom Cathedral in Frankfurt was preparing for the Feast of St. Bartholomew’s Eucharist.  This was a pull-out-the-stops liturgy, with a choir, the bishop as celebrant, and a packed cathedral.   Because I had arrived early and looked like a clueless tourist, several members of the parish (yes, they spoke English) gave me a tour of the church, and after the Mass, invited me for beer and sausage at the Bartholomaus-Fest.

I certainly thought my arrival at the Dom just in time for the Eucharist on the annual feast was providential, though it always frustrated me that I knew nothing of Saint Bartholomew. Local traditions in the east suggest that Bartholomew the Apostle went to India but ended his mission in Armenia.

There is a very ancient monastery, now lying in ruin, dedicated to Saint Bartholomew in eastern Turkey – once part of a greater Armenia before the genocide.  He is thought to have been flayed alive in Armenia, and this event is recorded in Michaelangelo’s Last Judgment.   At least two churches are in possession of his remains:  The Dom of St. Bartholomew in Frankfurt, and San Bartolomeo all’Isola in Rome.

Bartholomew has no speaking part in the Gospels, though he is always mentioned in conjunction with Philip.  In the course of doing my scriptural reasearch, I’ve found that may not necessarily be the case, though.  In John 1, we have this account:

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. And he found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”  Now Philip was from Beth-sa’ida, the city of Andrew and Peter.  Philip found Nathanael, and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”  Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”  Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”  Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

So where is Bartholomew the Apostle in this passage? That’s easy: he’s the one named Nathaniel.  In the Gospel of John, Nathaniel Bartholomew is known by his first name.  This would not be surprising, since John would have been intimately familiar with the the call of Nathaniel.  As neither Matthew, Mark nor Luke were present for the call of Nathaniel, they refer to him by his less familiar name: Bar-Tholmai.

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