Tag Archives: Saint Bartholomew

29 August: Saint Sabina

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I doubt I’ll find out how an icon of a second century Roman martyr saint came to be displayed in a redundant church in Shropshire, but that’s where we found this image of Saint Sabina. Who was she?

A wealthy woman by all accounts, who was converted by her Syrian slave girl, Serapia. That alone makes me wonder what sort of relationships existed between Roman citizens and their slaves. But it was not a Roman, but a Victorian woman, Mrs Alexander, who wrote All things bright and beautiful, including the lines, ‘The rich man in his castle,/ The poor man at his gate,/ God made them high and lowly / And ordered their estate. 

But that’s not today’s reflection!

Sabina held Serapia dear enough to have her body rescued after she was martyred, and buried in the family tomb. Sabina herself was denounced and executed soon afterwards.

The ancient Basilica of Saint Sabina in Rome is built where her house had stood.

Serapia shows us how anyone can be a herald of the Gospel; Sabina invites us to humbly pay attention to everyone around us, to respect those who serve us. A bus driver, postman or woman, a supermarket worker or nurse; none of these is our slave but our sister or brother in Christ rendering us service. That much Sabina saw; an early step on the road to abolition. The two ideas of equality and slavery are irreconcilable, unless everyone is equally precious and everyone is also a willing slave towards their neighbours.

For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man.

Philippians 2:5-8

 

Photo from St Batholomew, Richard’s Castle.

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24 August: Saint Bartholomew

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It was Saint Bartholomew’s church, so I had half expected to see him represented there. But the church at Richard’s Castle in Shropshire is redundant, a sad old place. There are traces on the walls of pre=Reformation murals, and fragments of ancient glass, the images no doubt destroyed by zealous iconoclasts. Yet it was here in the Marches that our Saint of two days ago, John Kemble, worked as a Catholic priest until he was denounced in the wake of the Titus Oates debacle.

Well, of the five earthbound men in this image of the Ascension of Jesus from a Shropshire hill, the front right is Peter, with his keys; opposite him, next to Mary, is the beardless John. We can take Peter’s neighbour to be Bartholomew, why not? He was close to Jesus. He was soon huddled away in the Upper Room, until, filled by the Spirit, he made his way to India and Armenia with  the Good News, and was eventually put to death.

John Kemble, after training on the Continent, served the people of his own district as pastor; Bartholomew served far from home. Who will hear the Good news from me today? Who will I hurt through mistaken zeal? Who will feel my faith is redundant because of my poor example?

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20 March: Palm Sunday

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In this panel from Strasbourg Cathedral, Jesus himself seems to be carrying a palm branch – symbol, as we know, of martyrdom.

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And here we see the martyrs’ palm engraved on the War Memorial in Boffles, Picardy, France. These  men might have paraded through crowds in Amiens on their way to the front, and are counted as ‘morts pour la Patrie’ – dead for France.

1914-18 did much to tear the heart from Christian Europe: too many clergy supported their own country’s War. Too many people died and suffered.

How do we face that? We remember that Christ rode into Jerusalem as Prince of Peace; that he would not let his disciples fight; that he told Pilate his Kingdom was not of this world.

Holy Week sees the would-be Messiah and liberator snuffed out by High Priest and Roman Governor, his followers broken, betraying themselves as well as him.

We too betray him and his Kingdom: that is, if he was who he said he was: the Prince of Peace, the Way, the Truth and the Life.

If his claim is true:

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

John Betjeman, Christmas.

stbartspalm (364x309)If true, it changes everything. God lived a human life in Palestine, unto the bitter cup of disappointment and death.

 

We will never understand human wickedness and sin, however much suffering we see. But let us not despair: the palm was awarded to the martyrs because it was the symbol of victory in the ancient world.

Your redeemer comes, riding on a donkey, go out to meet him! Matthew 21:5; Zechariah 9:9.

The disciples’ courage after Easter testifies to the truth of what they learned about Jesus. Tradition says that Bartholomew was martyred by being flayed alive. This panel from his church in Chichester, shows his initials either side of the skinner’s knife, surrounded by palms. Picture: NAIB.

 

 

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