The Cross of St. Bartholomew
Several people have asked me about the small Christian cross-like logo on the back cover of my latest two books. Well, like everything else in my life, there is an fascinating story as to how this all came about. For lack of a better name, I call it the Cross of St. Bartholomew, and I picked the design out from hundreds of other examples of Christian graffiti that had been chiseled into the walls of an ancient ruined Armenian cathedral outside of a tiny village in southeastern Turkey.
About five years ago, I began yet another personal quest to discover and to visit, if possible, the final resting places of all of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus; specifically those that were with Him in the flesh at Pentecost. And I do believe that I (and my wife/traveling partner, Theresa) have done so. What I discovered early on in this adventure was that only one of these twelve men is actually entombed today close by to where he originally was martyred. That, of course, was St. Peter. The mortal remains of all of the rest of Jesus’s apostles required a lot more work!
To visit the Apostle Peter’ site of martyrdom and final resting place, all you have to do is travel to the Vatican in Rome. Once there, you walk over to the Chapel of St. Joseph and kneel at The Altar of the Crucifixion of St. Peter in front of his big picture on the left side of the space. There you will be right over the spot where he was crucified. Then you can walk about 40 feet to the main altar which is built directly over St. Peter’s tomb.
The stories of the other eleven apostles are not so straight forward, and just what I know from my researches and travels would fill a book—which is actually my next project. But for the sake of this blog post I will be briefly discussing only the apostle Bartholomew.
St. Bartholomew in Rome
Visiting St. Bartholomew’s final resting place is quite easy as well. His official tomb is in the Church of San Bartolomeo all’Isola (St. Bartholomew on the Island) which is, indeed, located on an island in the Tiber River in Rome. Inside of the church, right under the main altar, in what looks like a big, red granite, bathtub, are the majority of the apostle’s bones, including his skin.
*For those unfamiliar with his martyrdom, legend says St. Bartholomew was flayed (skinned) alive. **As another aside: Theresa and I visited the church on a Saturday afternoon right at the end of a wedding. While the wedding guests took innumerable photos, I was able to sneak up upon the altar and was able to actually lay my hand upon the container of the good saint’s bones. Quite thrilling! Shortly afterward, all of our hard work of taking the photos was in vain due to a computer crash.
St. Bartholomew in Ancient Armenia
One of the more interesting things I’ve learned in my studies is that the Kingdom of Armenia was the first nation to accept Christianity. This new religion was brought to them by the apostles Bartholomew and Jude. [Ethiopia makes a similar claim, stating that their Apostolic Authority stems from the apostle Matthew. As of this writing, I’m not convinced.]
To visit the traditional site of St. Bartholomew’s martyrdom and original grave, I needed to travel to the far southeast corner of the modern-day nation of Turkey to an ancient village six miles from the border of Iran called Albayrak. Up until the early 1900s, this region of the Middle East was the very heart of ancient kingdom of Armenia. There, on the outskirts of town on a large hill overlooking the Valley of the Greater Zab River, are the ruins of the Cathedral of St. Bartholomew.
For three years, I was told in no uncertain terms not try and visit the region for a couple of reasons. This area where Turkey, Iran, and Iraq all come together is considered by the Kurdish People to be their ancestral homeland and there are frequent wars with the Turkish government. With regards to the cathedral itself, the ruins of the church sit right in the middle of a Turkish Army base, which makes it off limits to visitors. As a matter of fact, the only picture I could find at that time on the Internet was taken in 1960!
But in 1913, I found a tour agency who was willing to drive me down to the region under the direct condition that I don’t take any photographs. I was told that best the driver could do was drive me around on the roads surrounding the old church, just so I could then say I actually saw it with my own eyes. I agreed to his conditions. A few months later, we flew into Van, Turkey, (traditional home of the Turkish Van cat) and my wife and I met up with a driver who then drove us southward the 100 or so miles to Albayrak.
My Miraculous Quest and My New Personal Logo
However, when we arrived at the base of the hill upon which old St. Bartholomew’s Church sat, we discovered that the army had pulled out of the town a week before, and we now had unlimited access to the ruins! As a matter of fact,a Kurdish shepherd who was passing over the hilltop with his flock if goats told our driver that we were the first Westerners he’d seen in 40 years!
And so we took full advantage of the opportunity. It was almost a miracle: Here I was, now standing in a building built in the 4th century, over who’s main altar stood on top of the original martyrdom/grave site of one of Jesus’s twelve beloved apostles! To members of the Armenian Christian community, the Church of St. Bartholomew was—and still is somewhat—the equivalent of the Vatican to Western Christians!
I took probably 400 pictures and an hour of video documenting all of the aspects of the church that I could, just in case the ruins became off limits again. Among the many fascinations I had while exploring were the large amount of the Christian graffiti and iconic symbols on all of the walls. Among one small group of crosses on the northern wall, was the an image that somehow, in my mind and heart, caught my eye; it was almost like St. Bartholomew arranged to have the sun shine perfectly upon it so that I would notice it. And that symbol will be on all of my new books.