Voragine's Bartholomew: the Legenda Aurea

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For the purposes of this discussion, I am using Voragine's Golden Legend, translated from the Latin by Granger Ryan and Helmut Ripperger (New York: Arno Press), published in 1969.

The Life of St. Bartholomew the Apostle provides the Temple Classics edition of Voragine, originally translated by William Caxton, edited for Temple by F. S. Ellis.

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Jacobus de Voragine lived in the mid-thirteenth century. His family was not wealthy or well-educated, and in 1244 he was accepted into the Order of Preachers, the wandering friars eventually known as the Dominicans. St. Dominic founded the order, receiving a mandate from Pope Innocent III to teach and to defend the truths of the faith. Dominic differentiated his followers by basing their preaching in formal academic training, giving the Dominicans a lasting reputation as scholars and critics. Jacobus gained fame as a teacher, a speaker and spiritual guide. For twenty years he held high ecclesiastical office in the Italian province of Lombardy. Finally, after refusing his first offer, he became Archbishop of Genoa in 1292. Jacobus travelled to Rome for consecration, but Nicholas IV died unexpectedly; the Bishop of Ostia performed the ceremony to allow Jacobus to return to his diocese as quickly as possible, without waiting for a new pope to be selected.

In addition to the lasting benefit Jacobus brought to his order, his diocese and to the Church overall, Jacobus left a greater legacy in his care and concern for the common people under his episcopate. His contemporaries described him as the father of the poor, and it is perhaps with the poor in mind that he began his greatest written work, the collection of hagiographies and legends called the Legenda Sanctorum, handed down to us as the Legenda Aurea, or Golden Legend. Over five hundred manuscript copies, in a wide range of translations and editions, reveal how popular Voragine's collection became.

Condemned in the intervening centuries -- especially the Renaissance -- for its emphasis on miracles, as well as its factual and stylistic flaws, the Legenda Aurea has gained popularity again in the last hundred years, less for its statements of fact than for its reflection of the beliefs of the medieval mind. Unlike the classical heroes of Greece and Rome, or the great kings and heros of national epics such as the Arthurian cycle, the saints were approachable by all people, even those who'd never understood a word of Latin or held a sword or ridden a horse. The saints' stories, transmitted through monastic libraries, calendars and liturgies from the fathers of the early Church, formed the cyclical benchmarks of the year. From Ryan's and Ripperger's Foreword,
It was this lore that Jacobus set down in his book, searching out the legends of the saints in the older authors, compiling and codifying them with diligent sincerity, telling them over with a gracious simplicity that would not tax the understanding of the humble folk, the sancta plebs Dei. (pg. ix)

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Voragine's book provides context for the establishment of St. Bartholomew-the-Great and its mission of charity to the people of London. The Golden Legend communicates to modern readers what Rahere and his companions most likely believed about the Apostle Bartholomew, and helps us to understand why this particular apostle was such a powerful patron.
He [Père Delehaye] points out that the curious thing about legends, hagiographical or otherwise, is that behind the ultimate author who puts them down in writing, there is a hidden 'author,' anonymous and manifold, whose memory stretches back through generations: this 'author' is the masses, the people themselves. The true matter of the legend is fashioned by the mind and soul of the people, and added to, or even at times substituted for, what is authentically known of the saints. The legends of the saints show us not so much the particular personalities and deeds of a certain number of individuals, as the ideals of the people from whose heart the legend sprang. (pg. x)
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The Legenda Aurea is broken up into sections based on the liturgical seasons, described by Jacopus in his Prologue as "the period or erring, or wandering from the way; the period of renewal, or returning to the right way; the period of reconciliation; and the period of pilgrimage." The Feast of St. Bartholomew, August 24, falls during the long season of pilgrimage, which lasts from Pentecost until Advent.

Jacopus precedes many of his hagiographies with an "entymological" discussion of the saint's name, believing that the saint's life, actions and eventual destiny are foreshadowed in the name God chose to grant him. He knew little Greek and less Hebrew, so the derivations are fanciful rather than factual, but again, they provide some context for beliefs about the stories that follow.
Bartholomew is interpreted the son of him who holds up the waters, or the son of him who raises him up; for the name comes from bar, son, and tholos, height, and moys, water. Hence Bartholomew is the son of him who holds up the waters, namely God Himself, who raises the minds of the doctors on high, that they may pour down the waters of doctrine.
[The prefix bar is the Hebrew designator meaning "son of," so at least in this particular instance Jacopus' interpretation was correct; but modern scholars more generally interpret the remainder of the word to be Tolmai, Hebrew for "one abounding in furrows," a farmer.]

Bartholomew's Mission

After expounding on Bartholomew's name, Jacopus tells the story of his mission to India or Armenia, his defeat of the demon Astaroth, and his martyrdom. This passage follows the Martyrdom of Bartholomew closely, so I will not repeat it here.

Bartholomew's Passion

In what seems to be the traditional, gruesome style of exposition for martyrdoms, Jacopus discusses disagreement amongst his sources about how Bartholomew died.
With regard to the manner of Bartholomew's passion, there are diverse opinions. Thus Saint Dorotheus says he was crucified; for he writes as follows: 'Bartholomew preached the faith in the Indies, and likewise gave to the people there the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, written in their own tongue. He died at Albana, a city of Greater Armenia, being crucified with his head down.' On the other hand, Saint Theodore says that he was flayed. In many other books we read only that he was beheaded. But these contradictions can be made to agree, by saying that he was first crucified, then flayed while still alive in order to increase his sufferings, and finally beheaded. (pg. 483)
Death by flaying is the most common martyrdom with which Bartholomew is associated; the symbols most frequently seen in his portraits are skinners' knives. Because of this association, Bartholomew is the patron saint of tanners and butchers.

The Translation of St. Bartholomew's Body to Italy

In the year 831, the Saracens invaded Sicily, and laid waste the island of Lipari, where the body of St. Bartholomew reposed; and they broke open his sepulchre, and scattered his bones. It is said that his body came from India to this island in the following manner. When the pagans saw that his remains were held in great honour because of the number of his miracles, in their wrath they placed his bones in a leaden coffin and cast them into the sea; and by the will of God the coffin came ashore upon the said island. And when the Saracens had dispersed his relics and had gone away, the apostle appeared to a certain monk and said to him: 'Arise and gather up my bones which have been dispersed!' And the monk replied: 'Wherefore ought we to gather up thy bones, or show thee any honour whatsoever, since thou hast allowed us to be pillaged, and hast nowise holpen us?' The apostle said: 'Long has the Lord spared this people by my merits: but their sins grew so grievous that they cried to Heaven, and I could no longer stay His punishments!' And when the monk asked how he should be able to find the apostle's bones among so many others, he said: 'Go to collect them by night, and those which thou shalt see shining like fire, take them up quickly!' He went therefore and found all as the apostle had foretold, and gathering his bones, embarked upon a ship and bore them to Benevento, which is the metropolis of Apulia. Now, however, it is said that they are at Rome, although the people of Benevento declare that they possess the body in their city. (pg. 483)
The translation from Benevento to Rome is not explained here (but see the passage attributed to St. Theodore, below). According to E. A. Webb's Records,
Now before this time [the time of Rahere's pilgrimage, circa 1120CE] the bones (or the supposed bones) of St. Bartholomew had been brought from Beneventum to Rome and placed in the ancient porphyry sarcophagus which forms the present high altar of the church of S. Bartolommeo. This church is on the Isola Tiberina, a small island which lies between the Ponte Garibaldi and the Ponte Emilio.
Webb also mentions the rumour that the body interred on the Isola Tiberina is not St. Bartholomew, but rather St. Paulinus de Nola:
A German historian, on the authority of Leo of Ostia, asserts that the bones of the apostle are not in the church [S. Bartolommeo] at all, as the body of St. Paulinus de Nola was by a pious fraud given to the emperor Otho in place of that of St. Bartholomew. The church authorities claim to have both bodies, the one in the high altar and the other in the north chapel altar; and there is some corroboration of this in the fact that both St. Paulinus and St. Bartholomew are depicted in the great well head which stands on the chancel steps and which is evidently coeval with the church itself.
The Catholic Encyclopedia states:
S. Bartolomeo all' Isola, Friars Minor, stands on the site of the ancient temple of Æsculapius and was built by Otto III, in 1001, in honour of St. Adalbert. The relics of St. Bartholomew were brought thither from Beneventum, those of St. Paulinus of Nola being given in exchange. (Catholic Encyclopedia: Rome - accessed 23 January 2007)
Since one of the goals of this study of the apostle is to understand his relationship with Rahere, the founder of St. Bartholomew-the-Great, who visited Rome and most likely lodged in the Trastevere, near the Isola Tiberina, we will assume that Bartholomew's remains are in S. Bartholommeo, where Rahere may have visited them.

Miracles Ascribed to St. Bartholomew

Jacopus finishes his entry on St. Bartholomew by recording three miracles associated with the Apostle. In the first miracle, Bartholomew demonstrates a strong preference for a particular type of oil in his lamps:
A certain woman brought a vase full of oil to be poured into a lamp at Saint Bartholomew's altar; but however much they tilted the vase over the lamp, the oil would not come out, although they put their fingers into the vessel, and felt the oil to be liquid. Then someone exclaimed: 'Methinks that the apostle himself is loath to have this oil in his lamp!' Thereupon they poured the oil into another lamp, and it came forth at once.

The second miracle describes Bartholomew, along with the other saints to whom churches in Benevento were dedicated, punishing the Emperor Frederick for his destruction of their city.
When the Emperor Frederick razed Benevento, and ordered all the churches to be destroyed, intending to transfer the city elsewhere, a certain man discovered a group of men, shining white in appearance, talking and discussing with each other. Struck with wonder, he asked who they might be, and one of them answered: 'There stands the apostle Bartholomew, with the other saints whose churches were in the city; and they have come together that they might treat of the penalty to be visited upon him who cast them forth from their abodes. Already, indeed, it is their irrevocable decision that he must shortly appear before the judgement seat of God, to answer to God for all these things!' And within a little while the said emperor came to a miserable end.
History records Frederick II sacking the Papal city of Benevento in 1244CE. After a long struggle, his battle with the Popes was finally lost around 1249; he died in 1250, wearing the garb of a Cistercian monk, after an attack of dysentery.

In the third miracle, Bartholomew defends one of his faithful followers from the blandishments of Satan:
In a book of the miracles of the saints, we read that there was a certain master who each year celebrated the feast of Saint Bartholomew with great solemnity. And once, when he was preaching on this day, the Devil appeared to him in the guise of a passing fair maiden; and he, casting his eyes upoon her, invited her to his table. While they were there, she strove ardently to win his love. Then Saint Bartholomew stood without the door, arrayed as a pilgrim, and urgently entreated them, for the love of Saint Bartholomew, to admit him to the feast. The maiden dissented, and bread was sent out to him, but he refused it. Then the pilgrim sent a message to the master, asking him to tell what quality he deemed most proper to man. The master said: 'The power to laugh!' But the maiden answered: 'No indeed, but sin, wherein man is conceived, is born, and lives!' When Bartholomew heard this response, he said that the master had reasoned well, but the woman had looked deeper. A second time the pilgrim sent to the master, asking what was the place, but a foot in dimension, wherein God had wrought the greatest miracle on earth. The master returned: 'The place of the Cross, where God worked great wonders!' But the woman said, 'In sooth it is a man's head, wherein exists, as it were, a lesser world!' Giving approval to both replies, the apostle proposed a third question: 'What is the distance between the peak of Heaven and the pit of Hell?' The master said that he knew not, but the maiden replied: 'Now I see that I am overthrown! I know this because I fell from the one to the other; and now I must show thee the distance!' Then the Devil, with a dreadful howling, hurled himself into the abyss: and when they sought the pilgrim, he was nowhere to be found. -- We read almost the same thing about Saint Andrew (pg. 484-485).

Comments by Doctors of the Church

Voragine finishes his discourse on Saint Bartholomew by citing the works of St. Ambrose and St. Theodore. The Ryan/Ripperger translation includes only a gloss on Saint Ambrose's text: "O with what praises may we fitly celebrate this admirable apostle, to whom it sufficed not to sow the seed of faith in the hearts of nigher peoples, but who with winged feet scanned the ends of the earth, and overleapt the bourne of the Indies!" (pg. 485). Caxton's translation of this passage (in the Temple edition) summarizes the events from the Martyrdom:
The blessed Ambrose saith thus in the preface that he made of this apostle in abridging his legend: Jesu Christ, thou hast vouchsafed to show to thy disciples, preaching, many things of thy divine Trinity in marvellous manner, and thy majesty, among whom thou hast sent the blessed Bartholomew honour by right great prerogative in to a far country. And how be it that he was all far from human conversation, nevertheless he deserved by the increasing of his predications to mark and think in thy sign the beginning of that people. (The Golden Legend: Volume 5: St. Bartholomew, accessed 23 January 2007)
Documents attributed to St. Ambrose are available on the New Advent Website's page on the Church Fathers; none of them makes any reference to Bartholomew.

Bartholomew's association with Armenia (rather than the more generic "India" contained in the Martyrdom) may stem from Voragine's final passage on the apostle, attributed to an abbot named Theodore (this passage is not included in the Ryan/Ripperger edition):
And the blessed Theodore, abbot and noble doctor, saith of this apostle in this manner among other things. The blessed apostle Bartholomew preached first in Licaonia, and after in India, and at the last in Alban, a city of great Armenia, and there he was first flayed and afterward his head smitten off, and there he was buried.

And when he was sent of our Lord to preach, as I suppose, he heard how our Lord said to him: Go, my disciple, to preach, void out of this country, and go fight and be capax of perils. I have first accomplished and finished the works of my father, and am first witness, fill thou the vessel that is necessary and follow thy master, love thy lord, give thy blood for his blood, and thy flesh for his flesh, and suffer that which he had suffered, let thine armour be debonairty in thy sweatings, and suffer sweetly among wicked people and be patient among them that perish thee.

And the apostle recoiled not, but as a true servant and obeissant to his master went forth joying, and as a light of God illumining in darkness the work of holy church, like as the blessed S. Austin witnesseth in his book, that, like a tiller of Jesu Christ, he profiteth in spiritual tilling. [Is the author familiar with the meaning of 'tolmai' and punning on Bartholomew's background, or is this more likely a reference to the parable of casting the seed of the Gospel on poor soil?]

S. Peter the apostle taught the nations, but S. Bartholomew did great miracles. Peter was crucified the head downward, and Bartholomew was flayed quick, and had his head smitten off. And they twain increased greatly the church by the gifts of the Holy Ghost.

And right as a harp giveth a right sweet sound of many strings, in like wise all the apostles gave sweet melody of the unity divine, and were established by the king of kings. And they departed among them all the world, and the place of Armenia was the place of Bartholomew, that is from Ejulath unto Gabaoth. There thou mayst see him, with the plough of his tongue, ear the fields unreasonable, sowing in the deepness of the heart the word of the faith, and in planting the vines of our Lord and trees of paradise. And to every each setting medicinally the remedies of the passions, rooting out pernicious thorns, cutting down trees of felony, and setting about hedges of doctrine.

But what reward yielded the tyrants to their curate? They gave to him dishonour for honour, cursing for benediction, pains for gifts, tribulation for rest, and right bitter death for restful life. And sith that he had suffered many torments, he was of them discoriate and flayed quick, and died not, and yet for all that he had them not in despite that slew him, but admonished them by miracles, and taught them by demonstrances, that did him harm. But there was nothing that might refrain their bestial thoughts, ne withdraw them from harm.

What did they afterwards? They enforced them against the holy body, and the malades and sick men refused their mediciner and healer, the city refused him that enlumined their blindness, governed them that were in peril, and gave life to them that were dead

 And how cast they him out? Certainly, they threw the body into the sea in a chest of lead, and that chest came from the region of Armenia with the chests of four other martyrs, for they did also miracles and were thrown with him into the sea. And the four went before a great space of the sea, and did service to the apostles like as servants in a manner, so far that they came into the parts of Sicily in an isle that is named Lipari, like as it was showed to a bishop of Ostia which then was present. And these right rich treasures came to a right poor woman. And these right precious margarets came to one not noble, the bright shining light came to one right heavy.

And then the other four came in to other lands, and left the holy apostle in that isle, and he left the other behind him.

And that one which was named Papian went into a city of Sicily, and he sent another, named Lucian, into the city of Messina. And the other twain were sent into the land of Calabria, S. Gregory into the city of Columna, and Achate into a city named Chale, where yet at this day they shine by their merits.

And then was the body of the apostle received with hymns, louings, and candles honourably, and there was made and builded a fair church in the honour of him.

And the mountain of Vulcan is nigh to that isle, and was to it much grievous because it received fire, the which mountain was withdrawn by the merits of this holy saint from that isle seven miles, without to be seen of any body, and was suspended toward the sea. And yet appeareth it at this day to them that see it, as it were a figure of fire fleeing away.

Now then, therefore, I salute thee, Bartholomew, blessed of blessed saints, which art the shining light of holy church, fisher of fishes reasonable, hurter of the devil which hurted the world by his theft. Enjoy thee, sun of the world, enlumining all earthly things, mouth of God, fiery tongue pronouncing wisdom, fountain springing goodly, full of health, which hallowest the sea by thy goings and ways not removable, which makest the earth red with thy blood, which repairest in heaviness, shining in the middle of the divine company clear in the splendour of glory. And enjoy thee in the gladness of joy insatiable. Amen. And this is that Theodore saith of him. (The Golden Legend: Volume 5: St. Bartholomew, accessed 23 January 2007).
Bartholomew remains the patron saint of Armenia to this day.

For More Reading

The Order of Preachers -- the Catholic Encyclopedia's entry on the foundation and history of the Dominicans

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