St. Bartholomew was one of the Twelve Apostles; some Bible scholars identify him with Nathanael (John 1:46-50). He was martyred in 69 AD after converting the King of Armenia, Polymius, to Christianity.
HISTORY & LEGEND
- St. Bartholomew’s Fair: Held in London from 1133 – 1855, the St. Bartholomew’s Fair was a summer charter fair (a street fair established by Royal Charter); it was originally chartered by Henry I to the Prior of St. Bartholomew’s church. It began as a cloth fair, then grew to include more goods, vendors, and entertainment, including mystery plays (dramatizations of Bible stories).
- Bartlemas Bun Run: In Sandwich – a town in the district of Kent, England – a hospital was founded in 1190, with St. Bartholomew’s chapel being added in 1217. A longtime tradition has been the St. Bartholomew Bun Run: on Bartlemas, after a service in the chapel, children race around the exterior and receive a currant bun when they finish (mimicking pilgrims receiving food along the journey). Adults receive a St. Bart’s biscuit, stamped with the town arms. This tradition seems to have replaced an earlier one, when visiting children would receive “St. Bartholomew’s Dole” – bread, cheese, and beer. This, in turn, had represented the Wayfarers’ Dole – food offerings given to pilgrims on their way to Canterbury.
- Watermelon Festival: The Basilica of St. Bartholomew, on an island in the Tiber river (Rome), was host for years to a Watermelon Festival. Children chased rolling melons, competed for prizes, and vendors sold beautiful watermelons displayed on ladders decorated with garlands, ribbons, and flags. This spread to Spain, where children in Majorca made lanterns out of watermelons for Bartlemas.
- Shepherd’s Race: Dating back to 1443, a Shepherd’s Race is held on Bartlemas in Markgröningen, Germany. There are shepherding contests and a barefoot race, with the winner receiving a flower-crowned sheep.
- Bookbinding: St. Bartholomew is the patron saint of bookbinders; a bookbinder employee holiday called a Wayzgoose was held on his feast day (many publishers still have August employee holidays around Bartlemas). The Gutenburg Bible was printed for the first time on Bartlemas, 1456.
- Mead Blessing: Reflecting the rhythms of the agrarian year and nature’s cycles, it’s traditional to harvest honey on Bartlemas. St. Bartholomew came to be associated with honey, beekeepers, and mead – there is still a church (at Gulval, in Cornwall) in which they bless mead on Bartlemas!
Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens. Oxford Companion to the Year. Oxford University Press, 1999.
Roud, Steve. The English Year. Penguin, 2008.
A Clerk of Oxford: Some Traditions of St. Bartholomew’s Day.
SFDS History Mysteries: Bartholomew Cuts the Cheese.