Today the church honors a saint wrapped in mystery: St. Bartholomew, Apostle, perpetual Somebody/Anybody.
Bartholomew makes an appearance as one of Jesus’ 12 disciples in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and reprises the role in the book of Acts.
His name is not even really a name as much as a description: he is the “son of Ptolemy” (except in Matthew where he’s called Simon Bar-jonah).
Bartholomew may, therefore, have another personal, intimate name that we have no knowledge of. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke he is associated with the disciple Philip, but in the Gospel of John the disciple Philip is yoked with a disciple named Nathanael. Could Bart actually be named Nate?
There are several traditions that map the two names together, and separately, though as early as the 9th Century the two names were often considered one and the same.
Lore has it that Bartholomew wrote a Gospel account, which is now lost to history. Some reports have him preaching in Asia Minor, Persia, and India, where he supposedly left a copy of the Gospel of Matthew written in Hebrew for the people to have and keep, a copy which was reportedly found at the end of the 2nd Century by a wandering missionary.
Most accounts have him ending his ministry (or, rather, having it ended for him) off the Caspian coast where he was grotesquely martyred (“flayed” according to the stories, which is why he’s often depicted with a knife, or even holding his own skin). He secured his place in the pantheon of saints by being included in the Sistine Chapel mural near Christ at the last judgment.
The Coptic church has a different tradition about this saint, though, one that has him preaching in Upper Egypt and North Africa, where he met his martyrdom by being cast into the sea.
Something I’ve come to love about this mysterious and secretive saint is the fact that they are relatable to many in our world who labor under an identity that they don’t quite jive with.
I’m thinking of the trans and non-binary youth I’ve walked with who struggle with what to call themselves. Often flayed in public opinion because they can’t quite put words around their own being, they struggle to find voice in a world of assumed norms.
I’m thinking of the people who are known less for who they are as people, and more for who they are in relation to other, more popular people. The eclipsed sibling. The child who never quite lives up to their parent. The quiet spouse. The one who was in a position directly before or after the beloved person who held that same position in a church, a public office, or even a family.
History is confused about this saint, and never really waited around for clarity.
Bartholomew/Nathanael is seen but not known. They are acknowledged but not really understood. They are talked about, but the details are confused and fuzzy because no one took the time to explore them, and they were never really given the chance to explain.
In this way Saint Bartholomew, this Saint Nobody/Somebody, is the patron saint of so, so many in this world…
-historical bits sifted from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations
-icon written by Vranos Nik and can be purchased at oramaworld.com.