Today is the feast day of Saint Bartholomew the Apostle. If you ever had to memorize the names of the twelve disciples, he's among them. But do you remember anything else in particular about him?
As it happens, the only specific mentions of him in the New Testament occur when the twelve disciples are listed. Presumably he was at some of the important events recounted, but was never mentioned by name. Some scholarship claims that Bartholomew (meaning “son of Tolomai”) might be the person named Nathaniel who appears in John's Gospel. But maybe not. I guess it's appropriate that the picture here is a little blurry.
If you Google “St. Bartholomew” he doesn't even come up first -- you get St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church on Park Avenue in New York City. They are marking this day today, you'll see.
So you'd think it would be hard to write a hymn about him. Noted hymnwriter John Ellerton (who wrote quite a number of saint's-day hymns) skillfully turns the very fact of his obscurity into a broader theme that brings us all into this hymn of praise.
Jesus Christ, to whom the number
Of thy starry host is known,
Many a name, by earth forgotten,
Lives forever round thy throne;
Lights, which earth-born mists have clouded,
There are shining full and clear,
Nobles in the court of heaven,
Nameless, unremembered here.
In the roll of thine apostles
One there stands, Bartholomew,
He for whom today we offer,
Year by year, our praises due;
How he toiled for thee and suffered
No one here can now recall;
All his saintly life is hidden,
All to him that did befall.
Was it he, beneath the fig tree
Seen of thee, and guileless found;
He who saw the good he longed for
Rise from Nazareth’s barren ground;
He who met his risen Savior
On the shore of Galilee;
He to whom the word was spoken,
“Greater things thou yet shall see”?
None can tell us; all is written
In the Lamb’s great book of life,
All the faith, and prayer, and patience,
All the toiling, and the strife;
There are told thy hidden treasures;
Number us, O Christ, with them,
When thou makest up the jewels
Of thy living diadem.
John Ellerton, 1871; alt.
Tune: RUSTINGTON (126.96.36.199.D.)
Charles Hubert Hastings Parry, 1897
This tune by C.H.H. Parry seems well-suited to the text, though if you've just sung it on August 15 for Sing we of the blessed Mother (and what other tune could you possibly use for that text?) it might be too soon to use it again. Other possibilities would be LUX EOI, or REX GLORIAE if you are allergic to overly-chromatic lines.
August 14 is also the anniversary of the beginning of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in 1572, when over 5000 people died in and around Paris in mob violence against French Calvinist Protestants (the Huguenots). This historical event has been depicted in a wide variety of artistic forms, from plays, novels and paintings, to an episode of British sci-fi TV show Doctor Who, to the French grand opera Les Huguenots by Giacomo Meyerbeer (who didn't write any hymn tunes as far as I know - though that opera uses Martin Luther's famous tune EIN FESTE BURG more than once).