Saint Bartholomew

Apostle Bartholomew

the apostle bartholomew
Saint Bartholomew

Bartholomew Nathanael, Talmai’s son, lived in Cana of Galilee. Three parallel knives are his apostolic symbol. According to legend, he was a missionary in Armenia, and to some scholars, he was the only one of the 12 disciples to have royal blood or noble birth. Saint Batholomew given name translates as “Son of Tolmai or Talmai” (2 Samuel 3:3).

Talmai was the king of Geshur, and his daughter, Maacah, was David’s wife and the mother of Absolom. Every list of the disciples includes Bartholomew’s name (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13).

This, however, was not his first name; it was his middle name. His given name was most likely Nathanael, and Jesus referred to him as “an Israelite indeed, without guile” (John 1:47).

The New Testament tells us very little about him. According to tradition, he was a great scholar of the law and the prophets, as well as a great searcher of the Scriptures.

He grew into a man completely devoted to the Carpenter of Nazareth and one of the Church’s most daring missionaries. He is said to have preached alongside Philip in Phrygia, Hierapolis, and Armenia.

He is regarded as the founder and martyr of the Armenian Church. However, tradition says that he preached in India, and his death seems to have taken place there. He died as a martyr for his Lord. He was flayed alive with knives.

saint bartholomew by pinturicchio (bernardino di betto), italian, c. 1497, tempera on wood panel - princeton university art museum
Saint Bartholomew by Pinturicchio (Bernardino di Betto), Italian, c. 1497, tempera on wood panel - Princeton University Art Museum 

Life with Jesus

When Philip brought Nathanael to Jesus, the first words he said to him were,

“Behold an Israelite indeed, without guile!”

Nathanael was perplexed, wondering how Jesus could recognize him.

Jesus told Nathanael that He had known him all along and that he would see much greater things than he had seen up to that point. Nathanael’s declaration that Jesus is the Son of God is the first recorded instance of someone accepting Jesus as the Son of God.

St. Bartholomew was astounded when Jesus asked,

“How do you know me?”

“Before Philip called you when you were under the fig tree, I saw you,” Jesus replied. St. Bartholomew interpreted Jesus’ revelation as a summons to follow Him.

Except for those who were present, no one would have known St. Bartholomew was near this fig tree at this point. Nonetheless, Jesus was aware of this, and, significantly, Jesus stated, “Before Philip called you.” At the very least, St. Bartholomew’s reaction suggests this “Rabbi, you are God’s Son! You are Israel’s King!” (Matthew 1:47; Matthew 1:49)

Saint Bartholomew

In the Bible

Bartholomew is listed among the Twelve Apostles of Jesus in the three synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and also appears as one of the witnesses of the Ascension; on each occasion, however, he is named in the company of Philip.

Travels and Missionary

According to legend, after Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, Bartholomew evangelized in the East, including Mesopotamia, Persia, the Black Sea region, and possibly India. He died as a martyr.

According to legend, Bartholomew converted Armenia’s king by casting out a demon from the temple’s main idol and then destroying all of the idols. In a fit of rage, the king’s older brother had Bartholomew arrested, beaten, and executed.

Life Facts

The identification of Bartholomew in the synoptic gospels and Acts with the Nathaniel of the Gospel of John is strengthened by the fact that Nathaniel was brought to Christ by the apostle Philip (John 1:45), and Bartholomew is always placed next to Philip in the lists of the apostles in the synoptic gospels.

If this identification is correct, then it was Bartholomew who said about Christ,

martyrdom of saint bartholomew
Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew

“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46)

That remark elicited Christ’s response when he first met Bartholomew:

“Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile” (John 1:47).

Bartholomew became a follower of Jesus after Christ revealed to him the circumstances surrounding Philip’s call (“under the fig tree,” John 1:48).

“Amen, amen, I say to you, you shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man,”

Christ told Bartholomew.


Bartholomew or Nathanael? We are once again confronted with the fact that we know very little about the majority of the apostles.

The unknown ones, on the other hand, were foundation stones, the 12 pillars of the new Israel, whose 12 tribes now encompass the entire earth.

Their personalities were secondary without diminishing their great office of carrying tradition from first-hand experience, speaking in the name of Jesus, and putting the Word Made Flesh into human words for the world’s enlightenment.

Their holiness was not an inward reflection of their position before God. It was a gift that they felt compelled to share with others.

The Good News was that all are called to the holiness of being Christ’s members, by the gracious gift of God. The simple fact is that humanity is meaningless unless God is its total concern. Then humanity, made holy with God’s holiness, becomes the most precious creation of God.

Feast Days

Eastern Christianity commemorates him on June 11, while the Catholic Church commemorates Bartholomew on August 24.

martyrdom of saint bartholomew by gioacchino assereto, 1630 ad, oil on canvas - accademia ligustica di belle arti
Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew by Gioacchino Assereto 1630 AD oil on canvas Accademia Ligustica di Belle Arti


Various traditions describe various methods of Bartholomew’s execution. He is said to have been beheaded or to have had his skin removed and crucified upside down, similar to Saint Peter.

In Christian iconography, he is shown holding a tanner’s knife, which is used to separate an animal’s hide from its carcass. Some depictions have across in the background, while others (notably Michelangelo’s Last Judgment) show Bartholomew with his skin draped over his arm.

The relics of Saint Bartholomew made their way from Armenia to the Isle of Lipari (near Sicily) in the seventh century, according to legend. In 809, they were transferred to Benevento, in Campania, northeast of Naples, and finally in 983 to the Church of Saint Bartholomew-in-the-Island, on the Isle of the Tiber in Rome.

Saint Joseph saw him at the altar on the Feast of the Apostle Bartholomew. He motioned to Joseph and took the holy Gospel from the altar table, pressing it to his breast with the words, May the Lord bless you, and may your song delight the entire world.

Saint Joseph then began to compose hymns and canons to adorn the Feast Day of the Apostle Saint Bartholomew and the Feast Days of many other saints, composing approximately 300 canons in total.

Saints John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Epiphanius of Cyprus, and other Church teachers believe that the Apostle Bartholomew and Nathanael are the same people (John 1:45; John 1:46; John 1:47; John 1:48; John 1:49; John 1:50; John 1:51; John 21:2).

Prayer to Bartholomew

st. batholomew prayer
O Glorious Saint Bartholomew, Jesus called you a person without guile and you saw in this word a sign that he was the Son of God and King of Israel. Obtain for us the grace to be ever guileless and innocent as doves. At the same time, help us to have your gift of faith to see the Divine hand in the events of daily life. May we discern the signs of the times that lead to Jesus on earth and will eventually unite us to him forever in heaven. Amen.
apostel bartholomeus s. bartholomaevs
Apostel Bartholomeus S. Bartholomaevs

Key Takeaway

There isn’t a lot of information available about Bartholomew. He was one of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples, one of the twelve, and a devout follower of Christ. The Catholic Church represents him with three parallel knives because of his belief method of death as a martyr flayed alive.

The name Bartholomew means “son of Talmai” (this is sometimes spelled, Tolman). His father was the King of Geshur, making Bartholomew a member of the royal family. He was regarded as a scholar who specialized in the law and the prophets. He was born in Cana of Galilee, the site of Jesus’ first recorded miracle, which launched His earthly ministry.

Bartholomew and the other disciples, known as the apostles or those who were sent, witnessed Jesus’ ministry for about three years. Following Jesus’ death, they launched the movement that became known as Christianity.

This makes Bartholomew one of the most important and authoritative leaders of the early church, and he most likely contributed to the spread of the gospel to specific regions during the first century, but he is never explicitly mentioned or singled out in any of the epistles.


Characteristics of Apostle Bartholomew shared an in-depth fact that everything that we can learn about Nathanael is taken from only seven verses of the Scripture.

Still, these seven verses give us great insight into his character.

According to the characteristics of the 12 apostles, what is known about this apostle is generally positive and has provoked at least some family members to say that I should have been called Nathanael instead of Nathan because, like that apostle, I am an Israelite in whom there is no guile.

Nathanael was from a small town called Cana of Galilee therefore Nathaniel was a bit of a country boy but did not think for a moment that country boys are uneducated or uninformed.

Nathaniel was a thinker.

Let’s consider three characteristics of Apostle Bartholomew:

  • A Man with Double Titles   
  • A Man with Devotional Traits
  • A Man with Deep Thoughts
apostle bartholomew the martyrdom of saint bartholomew, 1634
The Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew, 1634 Saint Bartholomew, who was flayed alive, was a subject Ribera treated several times. Here the painter focuses not so much on the physical anguish of the saint as on his mystical experience. The unusual X-shaped composition pulls the viewer into the scene to share the profound emotion that passes in the moment when Bartholomew confronts his executioner with eyes lifted to God. Attention is drawn also to the sharpening of the knife; the position of the blade and whetstone forms a cross -- involving us not only in Bartholomew's martyrdom but also in Christ's sacrifice and crucifixion. Ribera's thick, rich paints communicate a real physical presence. He uses the coarse bristles of his brush to texture the paint and give it tactile dimension. White hairs in the saint's beard are created by silvery filaments of paint. Around his eye, the pigments wrinkle like old skin. Before settling in Naples, Ribera had spent some time in Rome studying the works of Caravaggio. Evident in this picture is the influence of Caravaggio's dramatic lighting, deep shadows, and unremitting realism, but the intensity of Ribera's religious fervor and his skillful handling of paint are his own.

One of the first characteristics of Nathaniel or Bartholomew was what appeared to be a prejudice in him, as when he says,

Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?

This is not to condemn or judge, but merely to try to give you a picture of what he was like in the natural realm as well as the spiritual realm.

A Man with Double Titles

The synoptic gospels speak of an apostle named Bartholomew but never Nathaniel. On the other hand, the Gospel of John speaks of Nathaniel but never Bartholomew. In the synoptic gospels, Bartholomew always follows Philip’s name. In the gospel of John, it was Philip that led Nathaniel to Christ.

He is also linked with Thomas, John, James, and Peter after the resurrection when the apostles decided to go fishing, just as stated in the Characteristics of the 12 Apostles.

Since the other gospels do not mention Nathanael and the Gospel of John does not mention Bartholomew, they must be the same man.

And apparently, his full name appears to have been Nathanael Bartholomew. It is not uncommon to find people with more than one name. Matthew is also called Levi. Saul is also Paul. And Peter had three names – Simon, Peter, and Cephas.

Nathanael, the name that John called him, means a gift from God. If nothing else, it definitely shows that his parents were mindful that their baby boy was a blessing from the Lord.

duomo di milano - saint bartholomew
Duomo di Milano - Saint Bartholomew Saint Bartholomew the Apostle is said to have been skinned alive. This statue by Marco d'Agrate (1562) shows him draped in his own skin. I distinctly remember having to portray Saint Barholomew in a church ritual as kid and being quite disappointed that I wasn't one of the cool characters. I'm happy to be proven wrong.

So, the chances are good that Nathaniel was raised in a fairly decent religious home. Nathaniel is an Old Testament name. We can find it in the Old Testament in three forms:

First, there was Nathan, a prophet of David, who tried to keep David straight. Second, there was the name El-Nathan. This name belonged to a couple of important people:

One was a well-known man in Jerusalem who was also the father of a queen. Another was a messenger for Ezra to bring back more Levites to Jerusalem. Another name was Nathaniel. There were at least ten men with this form of the name. The most well-known was the brother of David.

So, what do we learn from his name? He had a religious upbringing which is probably why he had his devotions under a fig tree.

A Man with Devotional Traits

The characteristics of Apostle Bartholomew made us understand that he was a man with devotional traits. Earlier, Philip had told Nathaniel of Christ, but Nathaniel was not so quick to believe.

Nathaniel was the type of man who had to see for himself. When Philip spoke of one from Nazareth, he is not sure that Jesus is the one. He, like many others, held a poor estimation of Nazareth. It was not considered important or especially reputable.

This passage shows Nathanael to be a very devotional, blunt, and unpretentious person.

He openly expresses his doubts that anything good could come out of Nazareth. He then openly proclaims the supernatural knowledge Jesus possesses shows that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the promised Messianic King of Israel.

Jesus Christ reads his character like an open book and likes what He sees promising greater miracles than the supernatural knowledge about the human character He possessed.

san bartolomeo.
San Bartolomeo

A Man with Deep Thoughts

Another characteristic of Apostle Bartholomew was a critical thinker. He was a ponderer. He meditated upon things before he committed himself to something. And that is why Nathanael makes a powerful statement concerning Christ: John 1:49 Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.

There were quite a number of Jews who were anticipating the Messiah’s arrival. Those who studied the Bible knew that the time of the Messiah’s arrival was near.

This passage shows Nathanael to be a thoughtful and reflective sort of person.

The statements of Jesus Christ about being an Israelite relate to his descent from Jacob, who was certainly a man full of guile and deceit during his early life.

That said, it would appear as if Nathanael was under the fig tree (a common representation of a philosophical sort of person) thinking about the dream of Jacob where angels went up and down the stairway to heaven, showing the relationship between heaven and earth and the possibility of communication between the two realms.


There are a few lessons that one can learn from Bartholomew (Nathanael). These lessons include lessons about his personality as it appears in Scripture and what type of believer is likely to be a lot like this apostle. In learning about Bartholomew (Nathanael), we help learn that the qualities Jesus Christ praised in him are also praiseworthy in other believers and are useful for the body of Christ as a whole.

sant bartholomew, sealand, sir y fflint st bartholomew's church, sealand
Sant Bartholomew, Sealand, Sir y Fflint St Bartholomew's Church, Sealand

Summary Characteristics

Let us, therefore, conclude with an honest admission that one would like to know a lot more about the characteristics of apostle Bartholomew than either the biblical or the historical record provides.

However, what the Bible does supply is at least a striking piece of evidence of how this particular disciple (and others like him) fits in with other disciples as a sounding board and a sincere and faithful companion, full of reflection well as sincerity.

Resources Characteristics


St Bartholomew Facts show us that although the Bible didn’t brief us much on St Bartholomew, it is believed that Apostle Bartholomew was also known as Nathanael and came from Cana in Galilee. (John 21:2). He expressed some local prejudice about Nazareth. (John 1:46)

Jesus recognized how sincerely his love for God was from the beginning when He said,

“Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” (John 1:47).

Nathanael may have preached in India and translated the Book of Matthew into their language. He was beaten, crucified, and beheaded. It is one of St Bartholomew’s facts that he died as a martyr while serving the people of Albinopolis, Armenia.

Most Bible scholars believe Nathanael and Bartholomew were one and the same.

The name Bartholomew is a family designation, meaning “son of Tolmai,” which implies that he had another name. Nathanael means “gift of God” or “giver of God.”

san bartolomé
San Bartolomé

Facts and Symbols

One of the St Bartholomew Facts is that Bartholomew is also known as Nathaniel. He is most famous for the dramatic conversation he had with Apostle Philip in the Gospel of John.

Philip, having seen Jesus, rushes to Nathaniel to tell him about the messiah.

Nathaniel asks,

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Philip says,

“Come and see.”

When Nathaniel approaches Jesus, the Saviour miraculously describes Nathaniel and the apostle cries out,

“Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

Tradition suggests that Bartholomew traveled widely to preach the gospel. He is said to have gone as far east as India, but most sources center him around Armenia and Africa. He was martyred after converting the king, Polymius, to Christianity. The king’s brother ordered Bartholomew to be tortured and executed. Bartholomew’s symbol is a knife to show that he was killed by being skinned alive.

One of the other St Bartholomew facts is that in the synoptic Gospels, the name Bartholomew always follows Saint Philip in lists of the Twelve. In the Gospel of John, Bartholomew is not mentioned at all; Nathanael is listed instead, after Philip. Likewise, Nathanael’s presence with other disciples at the Sea of Galilee after Jesus’ resurrection suggests that he was one of the original Twelve (John 21:2) and a witness to the resurrection.

Bartholomew is one of the most obscure apostles. His name only appears in the four lists of Jesus’ 12 main disciples, and he’s never listed with any titles or descriptions. All we really know is his name, and that he’s closely associated with Philip (aside from the list in Acts 1:13, Bartholomew is always listed alongside Philip, which perhaps indicates some sort of relationship).

saint bartholomew - rembrandt harmensz. van rijn
Saint Bartholomew - Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn


There are many St Bartholomew Facts and one of the many miracles performed by Bartholomew before and after his death, are the two very popular ones, known by the townsfolk of the small island of Lipari.

The people of Lipari celebrated his feast day annually. The tradition of the people was to take the solid silver and gold statue from inside the Cathedral of St Bartholomew and carry it through the town.

On one occasion, when taking the statue down the hill towards the town, it suddenly became very heavy and had to be set down. When the men carrying the statue regained their strength, they lifted it a second time. After another few seconds, it got even heavier.

They set it down and attempted once more to pick it up. They managed to lift it but had to put it down one last time. Within seconds, walls further downhill collapsed. If the statue had been able to be lifted, all the townspeople would have been killed.

During World War II, the Fascist regime looked for ways to finance its activities. The order was given to take the silver statue of St Bartholomew and melt it down. The statue was weighed, and it was found to be only a few grams.

It was returned to its place in the Cathedral of Lipari. In reality, the statue is made from many kilograms of silver and it is considered a miracle that it was not melted down. St Bartholomew is credited with many other miracles having to do with the weight of objects.

saint bartholomew
Saint Bartholomew

Is Bartholomew the Same Person as Nathanael?

Bartholomew’s name most likely comes from the Aramaic name, Bar-Talmai, meaning “son of Talmai.” If that’s the case and this is a patronymic name (meaning a name that derives from a person’s father), it stands to reason that Bartholomew would’ve been known by another name.

In this case, most would argue that this other name is Nathanael since Nathanael appears to be an apostle in the Gospel of John, is closely associated with Philip (Philip calls him to meet Jesus, after all), and Bartholomew doesn’t appear in John.

But others argue that Bartholomew is a standalone name and that the Greek text normally represents patronymic names differently:

“The name ‘Bartholomew’ may stand by itself in the apostolic lists as a proper name. It is not necessarily patronymic. The patronymic is normally expressed in the lists by the Greek genitive, not by the Aramaic bar.” —Professor Michael Wilkins, Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary

That’s not to say Bartholomew was not also known as Nathanael, just that this isn’t necessarily why he would’ve been known by two names. Many modern scholars prefer to take a neutral stance on Nathanael and Bartholomew, suggesting that it’s possible, but not verifiable.

If Bartholomew is Nathanael though, John gives us two additional passages to learn about this disciple. When Philip first tells Nathanael about Jesus, he’s skeptical:

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46)

But after seeing Jesus demonstrate his divinity, he says:

“Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel” (John 1:49)

Toward the end of John’s gospel, Nathanael comes up again. This time, he’s merely listed among seven disciples who went fishing (John 21:1John 21:2John 21:3).

We know several of these disciples are fishermen—Peter, James, and John, plus Andrew if he’s one of the unnamed disciples in the passage—so either Nathanael was a fisherman, too or he’s just taking the opportunity to learn a new trade since at this point it seemed like the whole disciple thing didn’t work out.

saint bartholomew martyrdom
Saint Bartholomew Martyrdom

Was Nathanael the Apostle Bartholomew?

Most Bible scholars believe Nathanael and Bartholomew were one and the same. The name Bartholomew is a family designation, meaning “son of Tolmai,” which as part of the St Bartholomew Facts implies that he had another name. Nathanael means “gift of God” or “giver of God.”

In the synoptic Gospels, the name Bartholomew always follows Philip in lists of the Twelve. In the Gospel of John, Bartholomew is not mentioned at all; Nathanael is listed instead, after Philip. Likewise, Nathanael’s presence with other disciples at the Sea of Galilee after Jesus’ resurrection suggests that he was one of the original Twelve (John 21:2) and a witness to the resurrection.

Conclusion Facts

St Bartholomew Facts writes Bartholomew (Nathanael Bartholomew): Bartholomew (also referred to as Saint Bartholomew by the Catholic church) was a friend of Phillip and was brought to see the greatness of Christ by Phillip. It is part of the St Bartholomew Facts that both Bartholomew and Phillip are often seen together and as a result, they are generally lumped together when spoken of in any detail.

Bartholomew is known for being an honest man who was convinced by Jesus’ greatness upon his meeting with Him and learning that Jesus saw him even before he came to Him.

Much as with Phillip, Bartholomew is not referred to in detail in The Bible and so not too much is known about him. While his death is not talked of in The Bible it is believed that Bartholomew too received the death of a martyr as a result of his firm belief in Christianity and his intent on spreading the word of Christ.

Resources Facts


Saint Bartholomew was chosen as one of the twelve apostles by our blessed Lord Himself. Several learned interpreters of Holy Scripture believe that this apostle was the same as Nathaniel, a native of Cana in Galilee, a doctor of Jewish law, and one of Christ’s seventy-two disciples, to whom he was led by St. Philip, and whose innocence and simplicity of heart deserved the highest eulogy from Our Redeemer’s divine mouth.

He is mentioned among the disciples who gathered in prayer after Christ’s ascension, and he, like the others, received the Holy Spirit. Being eminently qualified by the divine grace to discharge the functions of an apostle, he carried the Gospel through the most barbarous countries of the East, penetrating the remoter Indies. He then returned to the northwest part of Asia, where he met St. Philip in Hierapolis, Phrygia.

As a result, he traveled to Lycaonia, where he instructed the people in the Christian faith; however, we don’t even know the names of many of the countries where he preached. However, the name Bartholomew is a family name that means “Son of Tholmai” (Bar-Thomas, or Bartholomaios in Greek). As a result, Bartholomew is commonly identified with Nathaniel, who is mentioned in Saint John’s gospel but not in the synoptic gospels.

saint bartholomew
Saint Bartholomew

#1. How is Bartholomew referred to in the East?

#2. What century was Bartholomew born?

#3. What is another name for Bartholomew?

#4. Where was Bartholomew buried?

#5. When did Bartholomew and Jude bring Christianity to Armenia?

#6. What does the name Bartholomew mean?

#7. Why does Bartholomew hold skin?

#8. What part of modern day Turkey did Bartholomew travel to?

#9. Who introduced Bartholomew to Jesus?

#10. Bartholomew is the patron saint of which church?




Resources Saint Bartholomew

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