The Liturgical Home: The Feast of St. Bartholomew

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On August 24th, the Church celebrates St. Bartholomew, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus according to the New Testament. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke each mention Bartholomew by name (Matt. 10:13, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:14). In the Gospel of John, he is called Nathanael (John 1:43-44) and initially asks “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” before meeting Jesus. Christ immediately recognizes him as “An Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Upon Jesus telling him that he saw him praying under a fig tree, the new disciple proclaims, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

This story aside, unlike some of the other disciples, the Bible does not document St. Bartholomew’s life and activities in detail. However, tales of his later ministry and martyrdom have inspired Christians for centuries.

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The Life of St. Bartholomew

As a disciple, we know that St. Bartholomew traveled everywhere with Jesus, learning from him and helping him in his mission. He continued with the other disciples after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension and was in the upper room when the Holy Spirit fell (Acts 1:13, Acts 2). As an Apostle of the Lord, he became a leader of the early Church.

Tradition tells us that, after the baptism of the Holy Spirit, St. Bartholomew traveled extensively, preaching the gospel wherever he went, including regions such as India, Armenia, and possibly parts of Africa. He is often credited with bringing Christianity to these areas.

St. Bartholomew’s Martyrdom

St. Bartholomew’s martyrdom is also a large part of his tradition. He is believed to have been martyred in Albanopolis in ancient Armenia. Various accounts of his cause of death exist. One says he was hanged upside down, and another that he was beheaded. However, the most famous version, and the one that you see represented in iconography and art, is that he was flayed alive. The most famous image of St. Bartholomew is of the apostle holding his flayed skin in The Last Judgement by Michelangelo. 

Although we don’t have many details about St. Bartholomew’s life, art, and iconography have widely depicted him. His name is also associated with various churches, cathedrals, and monuments, and rich traditions celebrate his feast day, all honoring his memory and contributions to Christianity.

Ways to celebrate St. Bartholomew’s Day:

Make gingerbread.

During the Middle Ages in England, gingerbread was often the special cake served on feast days. The saint’s image was usually stamped on the cake. Gingerbread marked with the image of Bartholomew was served at Bartholomew Fairs that were held across the land. We are making Gingerbread Cake from one of my favorite seasonal cookbooks, Honey and Jam, by Hannah Queen. (The recipe is included at the end of the article.)

Have a race and eat a currant bun.

Villagers hold a St. Bartholomew’s Bun Race in Sandwich, Kent, England. The children of the village race around the chapel of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital and are rewarded with a currant bun for their efforts.

Make Bartlemas Beef.

St. Bartholomew has been the patron saint of butchers since he was skinned alive. Yikes! Traditionally, the beef served on this day was known as Bartlemas Beef (“Bartlemas” means the Mass of St. Bartholomew). The “Cook’s Guide” from 1664 gives the following recipe.

Bartlemas Beef. Take a fat Brisket piece of beef and bone it, put it into so much water as will cover it, shifting it three times a day for three dayes together, then put it into as much white wine and vinegar as will cover it,and when it hath lyen twenty-four hours take it out and drye it in a cloth, then take nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and mace, of each a like quantity, beaten small and mingled with a good handful of salt, strew both sides of the Beef with this, and roul it up as you do Brawn, tye it as close as you can; then put it into an earthen pot, and cover it with some paste; set it in the Oven with household bread, and when it is cold, eat it with mustard and sugar.

Let me know if you make this, especially what you decide to use as “some paste”!

Eat watermelon and make lanterns out of watermelon.

In Italy and Spain, it was traditional to eat watermelon since watermelon was at the height of its season during this time. A watermelon festival was thrown on St. Bartholomew’s Day, and everyone gathered to celebrate the saint and enjoy the fruit. A cathedral dedicated to St. Bartholomew, known as San Bartolomeo all’Isola, stands on Tiber Island, in the middle of the Tiber River that runs through Rome. Villagers gathered there for the celebrations, and a market had vendors displaying whole or sliced watermelons. The villagers attended mass, ate watermelon, and held races to celebrate the day. Children made lanterns out of the watermelons on the Spanish island of Majorca and paraded through the village. 

Gingerbread Cake

  • 1 cup strong brewed coffee
  • 1 cup dark unsulfured molasses
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2-¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1-½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 Tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • Powdered sugar for dusting

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10-inch Bundt pan. 

In a large saucepan, combine the coffee and molasses, bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, then remove the pan from the heat. Whisk in the baking soda (the mixture will foam). Allow the syrup to cool.

Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in a medium bowl.

Whisk together the oil, eggs, sugar, and molasses mixture in a large bowl. Add the flour mixture and stir until just combined.

Pour the batter into the pan. Bake until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert it on a wire rack and cool completely. Dust the cake with powdered sugar.


Image: The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew by Jean Bardin (1765). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Author

Ashley Tumlin Wallace

Ashley Tumlin Wallace, the author of the Liturgical Home series of books and articles at Anglican Compass, is a homeschooling mom of four and the wife of an Anglican priest. She and her family live in the panhandle of Florida.

View more from Ashley Tumlin Wallace

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