St. Bartholomew: The Funny Apostle

I’m slapping my head about now, because it finally makes sense to me that Rahere the jester would have founded the London hospital called St. Bartholomew’s.

Here’s a very good unofficial site about St. Bart, Rahere, and St. Bart’s Hospital and Priory, and the Priory Church of St. Bartholomew the Great. It’s amazing stuff. Take the time to browse around.

Anyway, the siteowner points out that the apocryphal materials about the Apostles tend to translate the whole “without guile” thing into a very direct personality for St. Bart, aka Nathaniel bar Tolomai, “son of Furrow” — probably from a family of farmers or plowmen. He asks questions a lot like St. Thomas, but with even less beating around the bush; and he gets answers in the stories, too. But the other thing they credit him with is cheerfulness, good looks, pleasant manners, a good sense of humor, and making a lot of jokes.

Well, I guess _somebody_ among the Apostles had to be socially ept. 🙂

This carries over into one of the hymns to St. Bartholomew quoted on the site, which opines that before St. Bart becomes one of the very serious judges judging Israel on the Last Day, “in the unending Kingdom, forever he will play.”

This goes along with the medieval virtue of Eutrapelia, a witty playfulness and relaxation of the mind, as defined by Aristotle. St. John Cassian told a story about St. John explaining this virtue to a pagan Greek philosopher, and Aquinas quoted him. (Aquinas’ teacher St. Albert had many quietly funny moments in his arguments.) There’s a passage from Paul where “eutrapelia” is used as a synonym for unwholesome humor, though; and early Christian sources go back and forth on how much and what kind of humor and fun is appropriate. St. Bart’s story is probably part of that. (I don’t remember him coming up in Eco’s The Name of the Rose, though. I guess even Eco can’t know everything; or it didn’t fit his story.)

The other interesting thing is that it gives a sort of scriptural/traditional basis to the “comic relief” characters in medieval stories. If one of the apostles could be a bit of a cut-up, then nobody could object if one of King Arthur’s knights was a jester and/or played jokes (Sir Dagonet). *

It also explains why a jester would have a devotion to this particular apostle. (And not just because dying on stage must feel like getting flayed alive.)

OTOH, his legendary ability to keep his robes miraculously spotless, without doing laundry for some huge number of years, is of course a great metaphor for being good; but it also makes him sound like the Bing Crosby apostle. (Cool, man, cool.) Anyway, that’s why he was a patron saint of plasterers. I’m glad to have that cleared up, because the whole flayed-alive thing was an unpleasant occupational analogy.


* Btw, there’s a fun new urban fantasy comic out, and it’s called The Order of Dagonet. If you ever wanted to see Ozzy Osbourne and Neil Gaiman-analogues battle a super-scary invasion by the Courts of Faerie, this is apparently the comic for you. 🙂



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2 responses to “St. Bartholomew: The Funny Apostle

  1. Ah, joy! Never understood why it’s so common to be dour about faith….

  2. Hey! You mentioned my comic book! If you would like to read it and…I don’t know…talk about it on your blog I would be happy to send you an electronic copy.

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