Today is the feast of St Bartholomew who is mentioned in all the synoptic gospels as one of the twelve apostles.
The name means “son of Tolmai” and is so a patronymic rather than an actual name. St. John does not mention Bartholomew in his gospel but he does list a Nathanael in his account of the gathering of the apostles. Bartholomew’s name appears directly after Philips name in all three Synopic accounts so there is a strong possibility that the two names designate the same person.
This is the gospel for the feast.
“Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, the one about whom the prophets wrote: he is Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.’ ‘From Nazareth?’ said Nathanael ‘Can anything good come from that place?’ ” (John 1: 48).
We know no more after this wonderfully delightful exchange between Jesus and Nathanael. As one writer says, “legend takes over.” According to this he went east and preached variously in India, Armenia, Mesopamia and Persia or south to Egypt or elsewhere.
It is said he was martyred by being flayed alive and then beheaded. This made him patron saint of tanners. There is a statue by Marco Agrati in the Duomo, Milan of him with the skin round his next and knife in his hand. His relics are supposed to have been sent to Rome for safekeeping and are claimed by St Bartholomew-in-the-Tiber.
Believe it or not an arm was presented to Canterbury the 11th century. The story goes that it had been purchased for the cathedral priory by Queen Emma, wife of Cnut, in the 1020s or 1030s. She bought it from the Bishop of Benevento, who was then in England raising funds by the sale of relics, and in return for the arm the monks of Canterbury gave the bishop a fine cope as a gift. We don’t know what happened to the arm.
What is important for us today is that Bartholomew or Nathanael was an apostle who sent out to bear witness to Christ. He showed great boldness in speaking the word of God before all. Like all the apostles with firm faith he “held that the gospel is indeed the power of God unto salvation for all who believe…The followed the example of the gentleness and respectfulness of Christ” (Declaration on Religious Freedom, 11)