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How to Celebrate the Feast of St. Bartholomew

On August 24th, the church celebrates St. Bartholomew, a faithful disciple of Jesus.

St. Bartholomew was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus according to the New Testament. He is mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Unlike some of the other disciples, the details of his life and activities are not extensively documented in biblical texts.

What we do know is that St. Bartholomew, as a disciple, traveled everywhere with Jesus, learning from him and helping him in his mission. He continued on with the other disciples after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension and was in the upper room when the Holy Spirit fell. He also became an Apostle of the Lord and leader of the early church.

According to tradition, after the baptism of the Holy Spirit, St. Bartholomew is said to have traveled extensively, preaching the gospel wherever he went. He is believed to have traveled to various regions including India, Armenia, and possibly parts of Africa. He is often credited with bringing Christianity to these areas.

St. Bartholomew's martyrdom is also a large part of his tradition. He is believed to have been martyred in Albanopolis in ancient Armenia. There are various accounts of his cause of death; that he was hanged upside down or that he was beheaded but the most famous account, and the one that you see represented in iconography and art, is that he was flayed alive. The most famous image is that of St. Bartholomew holding his flayed skin in The Last Judgement by Michelangelo.

Although we don’t have many details about St. Bartholomew’s life, he is widely depicted in art and iconography, his name is associated with various churches, cathedrals, and monuments, and there are rich traditions celebrating his feast day, all honoring his memory and contributions to Christianity.

Ways to celebrate St. Bartholomew’s Day:

Make gingerbread. During the middle ages in England, gingerbread was often the special cake served on feast days. The saint's image was usually stamped on the cake. Gingerbread, with the image of Bartholomew, was served at Bartholomew Fairs that were held across the land. We are making Gingerbread Cake from one of my favorite seasonal cookbooks, Honey and Jam by Hannah Queen. (The recipe is included at the end of the article.)

Have a race and eat a currant bun. In Sandwich, Kent, England, villagers hold a St. Bartholomew's Bun Race. The children of the village race around the chapel of St. Bartholomew's Hospital and are rewarded with a currant bun for their efforts.

Make Bartlemas Beef. St. Bartholomew is the patron saint of butchers since he was skinned alive. Yikes! Traditionally, the beef served on this day was known as Bartlemas Beef (“Bartlemas” means the mass of St. Bartholomew). The following recipe is given in “Cook’s Guide” from 1664.

“Bartlemas Beef. Take a fat Brisket piece of beef and bone it, put it into so much water as will cover it, shifting it three times a day for three dayes together, then put it into as much white wine and vinegar as will cover it,and when it hath lyen twenty-four hours take it out and drye it in a cloth, then take nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and mace, of each a like quantity, beaten small and mingled with a good handful of salt, strew both sides of the Beef with this, and roul it up as you do Brawn, tye it as close as you can; then put it into an earthen pot, and cover it with some paste; set it in the Oven with household bread, and when it is cold, eat it with mustard and sugar.”

Let me know if you make this, especially what you decide to use as “some paste”!

Eat watermelon and make lanterns out of watermelon. In Italy and Spain, it was traditional to eat watermelon since watermelon was at the height of its season during this time. A watermelon festival was thrown on St. Bartholomew’s Day and everyone gathered to celebrate the saint and enjoy the fruit. On Tiber Island, in the middle of the Tiber River running through Rome, there is a cathedral dedicated to St. Bartholomew known as San Bartolomeo all’Isola. Villagers gathered there for the celebrations. A watermelon festival and market were held, with vendors displaying whole or sliced watermelons. The villagers would attend mass and then eat watermelon and hold races to celebrate the day. On the Spanish island of Majorca, children made lanterns out of the watermelons and paraded through the village.

Gingerbread Cake

1 cup strong brewed coffee

1 cup dark unsulfured molasses

½ teaspoon baking soda

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 Tablespoon ground ginger

1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

¾ cup vegetable oil

3 large eggs

2 cups packed dark brown sugar

Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10-inch Bundt pan.

In a large saucepan, combine the coffee and molasses, bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, then remove the pan from the heat. Whisk in the baking soda (the mixture will foam). Allow the syrup to cool.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.

In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, eggs, sugar, and molasses mixture. Add the flour mixture and stir until just combined.

Pour the batter into the pan. Bake until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert it on a wire rack and cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar.

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