Little is known:
Bartholomew was one of the twelve identified in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Some believe that he is the same man who is called “Nathanael” in the Gospel of John. If that’s the case, it would tell us a lot more about this disciple than we otherwise can confidently know.
Like most of the other apostles, Bartholomew carried the Gospel with him while he lived and eventually was martyred by cruel means. But Foxe’s Book of Martyrs offers some perspective-altering words for us as we consider this:
“Christ our Saviour, in the Gospel of St Matthew, hearing the confession of Simon Peter, who, first of all other, openly acknowledged Him to be the Son of God, and perceiving the secret hand of His Father therein, called him (alluding to his name) a rock, upon which He would build His Church so strong, that the gates of hell should not prevail against it. In which words three things are to be noted: First, that Christ will have a Church in this world. Secondly, that the same Church should mightily be impugned, not only by the world, but also by the uttermost strength and powers of all hell. And, thirdly, that the same Church, notwithstanding the uttermost of the devil and all his malice, should continue…
“The tyrants and organs of Satan were not contented with death only, to bereave the life from the body. The kinds of death were diverse, and no less horrible than diverse. Whatsoever the cruelness of man’s invention could devise for the punishment of man’s body, was practised against the Christians… And yet, notwithstanding all these continual persecutions and horrible punishments, the Church daily increased, deeply rooted in the doctrine of the apostles and of men apostolical, and watered plenteously with the blood of saints.”
Tradition tells us that Bartholomew carried the Gospel to India. From there, he went on to preach the good news in Armenia. It was there, on the edge of the Caspian Sea, that he was flayed alive and beheaded.
August 24 is the day in the Christian calendar on which we remember Bartholomew, thanking God for his life and example, and asking God to continue to guide and equip today’s Church with saints like him.
O almighty and everlasting God,
who didst give to thine Apostle Bartholomew
grace truly to believe and to preach thy Word:
Grant, we beseech thee, unto thy Church,
to love that Word which he believed,
and both to preach and receive the same;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(The Collect for the Feast of St. Bartholomew, from the Book of Common Prayer)