Feast Day 24th June

A rumbustious, rugged individual, Bartholomew was born at Whitby to Scandinavian parents and was given the name Tostig. This name seemed to cause such ridicule that as soon as he was able he changed it to William. By all accounts he was a most dissolute youth, but a change to his way of living came when he refused, what was probably an arranged, marriage. He fled to Norway and became a priest there. Returning to England he spent three years in parochial ministry. Sometime in the late 1140s he became a monk at Durham, as a novice he had a vision of Christ on the Rood inclining his head towards him and stretching out his arms to embrace him. He was greatly moved by his vision, the first of many, that soon after his profession he went to live, as a hermit on the island of Inner Fame, made famous by Cuthbert, here, except for a few short intervals, he spent the rest of his life.

Bartholomew relished the stormy weather and arduous conditions on this exposed site and practised with extraordinary vigour the privations and penances customary to the hermit life. Never easy to get on with, Bartholomew soon so annoyed another hermit, Aelwin that he left, never to return. Years later he shared the island with the ex-prior Thomas, but the two could not agree about the quantity and duration of their meals. This time Bartholomew returned to Durham for a short time; but they soon came to an agreement and lived afterwards in peace.

But Bartholomew had another side to his character, it is said he was continually cheerful, he loved fishing and had a great fondness of his pet bird, he showed great generosity to his many visitors. He was no respecter of persons, often rebuking the rich and powerful, who sometimes were so struck by his venerable presence that they abandoned oppression and took to alms giving. Once a Flemish woman, a friend of his early life, visited him and was so indignant at being refused entry to the chapel, saying she was treated like a dog, but when she tried to enter she was thrown on her back, "as if by a whirlwind". She recovered only at Bartholomew's intervention.

For most of his 42 years on Inner Fame Bartholomew spent his life praying and working, he was often heard striding over the island singing psalms, praising God in his splendid voice. Eventually he was stricken by a painful illness. Just before his death in 1193 he carved his own sarcophagus, possibly identical to the one that stands just outside the chapel to this day. After his death a local cult quickly sprang up and miracles were reported at his tomb. Bartholomew must have been both a headache and inspiration to the authorities and a delight to everyone else he came into contact with.

John Hayward


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