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.
Although Bartlemas (“St. Bartholomew’s Mass”) isn’t as well-known in the modern day, this feast is filled with beautiful, meaningful customs hailing from a variety of different regions and reflecting their local agriculture.
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HISTORY & LORE
St. Bartholomew’s Fair, held in London for over 700 years, was one of the biggest historical celebrations marking this day; it was filled with vendors, entertainment, mystery plays, and aromatic St. Bart gingerbread cookies.
Elsewhere in England – in Sandwich, where a chapel was dedicated to St. Bartholomew in 1217 AD at the local hospital – a “Bun Run” is held every Bartlemas; children race around the chapel and receive a currant bun when they finish (and adults receive a St. Bart’s biscuit). This tradition mimics the dole – bread, cheese, and beer – given to pilgrims on their way to Canterbury.
In Rome, the Basilica of St. Bartholomew was host to a Watermelon Festival on Bartlemas, since watermelon are plentiful at that time; this spread to Spain, where children in Majorca made lanterns out of watermelon for Bartlemas.
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.
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!
St. Bartholomew is the patron saint of bookbinders; a bookbinder employee holiday called a Wayzgoose was held on his feast day.
If you’d like to learn more about the history, traditions, folklore, & plantlore of Bartlemas, enjoy this free info sheet designed to help you build your Liturgical Year Binder:
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.