Only the first three Gospels list all twelve of the Apostles, and Bartholomew occurs in all three lists. His name, Bartholomew, is not a personal name at all, but indicates who his father was: "bar-Tolmai" - "son of Tolmai". So it is, for example, that at the end of John's Gospel, Jesus calls Simon Peter "Simon bar-Jona", that is "Simon, son of John". Bartholomew, however, is never given a personal name. Some bible scholars think that the disciple named as "Nathaniel" in the first chapter of John's Gospel (verse 45) is in fact Bartholomew because our Patron's name never occurs in that Gospel, although we must remember that John never gives a list of the Twelve at all. Maintaining that Nathaniel and Bartholomew are one and the same person is a very debatable point, so we'll keep with Bartholomew!
What do we know about him, apart from the fact of his membership of the Twelve? Virtually nothing! From early times he was reputed to have preached in India and then Armenia, where he was martyred at a place called Derbend on the Caspian Sea. It is said he was flayed alive before being beheaded. The church of St. Bartholomew in Rome claims his relics, although one of his arms was given to Canterbury by Queen Emma, wife of King Canute, in the eleventh century - quite a "catch" - and a great number of ancient churches in England were dedicated to him. Not our own, of course, that came later! Because of his particularly gruesome fate, his emblem is the flaying-knife and he is the patron saint of tanners and all who work with skins.
Written by Fr Tony Magness