Bartholomew of Farne

(c. 1123—1193) hermit

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(d. 1193), monk and hermit. Born at Whitby of Scandinavian parents and called Tostig until he changed his name to William to avoid the ridicule it had caused, he was somewhat dissolute in his youth. But the first change in his life resulted in his refusing marriage, going to Norway, and becoming a priest there. He returned to England and spent three years in parochial ministry. In the late 1140s he became a monk at Durham and took the name Bartholomew: while he was a novice he had a vision of Christ on the Rood inclining his head towards him and stretching out his arms to embrace him. Soon after his profession he went as a hermit to the island of the Inner Farne, made famous by Cuthbert. There he remained, except for short intervals, for his remaining forty-two years.

He practised with extraordinary perseverance the privations and penances customary to hermits, made much more arduous by the exposed site and the stormy weather. A rugged individualist, he found it difficult to live with others. A hermit called Aelwin, in possession at his arrival, soon left. Years later, the island was shared with the ex-prior Thomas, but the two could not agree about the quantity and duration of their meals. This time Bartholomew withdrew to Durham for a time; but they came to an agreement and lived afterwards in amity.

Bartholomew's more endearing traits included continual cheerfulness, love of fishing, his fondness for his pet bird, and his generosity to his many visitors. No respecter of persons, he reproved the rich and powerful, who were sometimes so struck by his venerable presence that they abandoned oppression and took to almsgiving instead. A Flemish woman, a friend in his early life, visited him and was indignant at being refused admission to the chapel, complaining that she was treated like a dog. But when she attempted to set foot in it, she was thrown on her back ‘as if by a whirlwind’. She recovered only at Bartholomew's intervention.

He passed his days in prayer and work, striding over the island, singing psalms in his splendid voice, reading and writing, milking his cow, and tending his crops. Eventually he was stricken by a painful illness with an internal abscess. Not long before his death he carved for himself a stone sarcophagus, possibly identical with the one still there, just outside the chapel where he used to pray. He experienced other visions, and miracles were reported at his tomb. His cult seems to have been confined to Durham and North-east England. Feast: 24 June.

From The Oxford Dictionary of Saints in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Christianity.

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