Blessed Bartholomew of Vicenza: Powerful Preacher, Promoter of Truth and Peace
By Jean M. Heimann
Blessed Bartholomew was born circa 1200 at Vicenza, Italy Vicenza in Northern Italy, and belonged to the noble family of Breganza. He received the habit of the order from Saint Dominic’s own hands on occasion of the holy founder’s visit to Vicenza in 1220.
He was a very virtuous man and within a short time, he became prior of the monastery, effectively overseeing several monasteries with great wisdom and fruitfulness. Seven years later, he became Master of the Sacred Palace, an office which had been first held by Saint Dominic himself. It was during this period that Blessed Bartholomew composed his scholarly commentary on the work of Saint Denis, entitled “From the Heavenly Hierarchy.”
In 1246, Pope Innocent IV appointed Blessed Bartholomew as Bishop of Cyprus, were he served for two years. He was then sent as Papal Legate to King Louis IX of France, who was then carrying on the Crusade against the infidels. The two saints became good friends and St. Louis chose Blessed Bartholomew as his confessor. When the King returned to France in 1252, Blessed Bartholomew returned to his diocese, where he remained for four more years, when Pope Alexander IV assigned him to be Bishop of Vicenza.
The Bishop’s primary task was to purge his new diocese of the heresies which had crept into it. Through his preaching, he managed to successfully convert the leader of the heretical party and many of his followers. This so infuriated the infamous Ezzelino (an Italian feudal lord), who at that time tyrannized Northern Italy in the name of the German Emperor, that he managed to have Blessed Bartholomew exiled. The pope then sent Blessed Bartholomew, as his representative, to discuss some essential issues with the King of England. On his way back to Italy, Blessed Bartholomew visited St. Louis, who presented him with a relic of the True Cross and one of the thorns from Christ’s crown, which had been given to him by the Emperor of Constantinople.
In 1259, Ezzelino died and Blessed Bartholomew returned to his diocese, bringing with him the priceless relics King St. Louis had presented to him. As the holy bishop’s ship came nearer to the shore, his flock shouted out: “Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord!” Blessed Bartholomew built a large church to house the precious relics, and attached to it a new monastery for his Dominican order. A noble Venetian widow also offered him a beautiful reliquary which contained a portion of the True Cross, two thorns of our Lord’s crown, and relics of the Apostles and other Saints, which he promptly put in his newly-erected Church of the Holy Crown.
Blessed Bartholomew devoted himself with zeal to the duties of his office, rooting out heresy, providing for the needs of the poor, and renovating his Cathedral, which had been ruined by Ezzelino. He various prominently promoted the peace and prosperity both of Church and State. He was constantly chosen as a mediator in the struggles and disputes which affected Northern Italy; his brilliant ability to reconcile between the various factions did much to alleviate the dismal feuds of that period. In 1261, Blessed Bartholomew established the Order of the Knights of the Mother of God (commonly known as the Knights of St. Mary), who were responsible for keeping peace in towns throughout Italy. This order spread widely throughout Italy, and received the approval of the Holy See.
Blessed Bartholomew was well-known for his speaking skills and preached at the second translation of the relics of Saint Dominic in 1267. In 1271, he died and was laid to rest in the Church of the Holy Crown. He was beatified by Pius VI on September 11, 1793.
O God, who made Blessed Bartholomew, Your Confessor and Bishop, wonderful in leading the enemies of the faith from the darkness of error to the light of truth, and in bringing back multitudes to peace and concord, grant, through his intercession, that Your peace, which surpasses all understanding, may keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, who lives and reigns with You, forever and ever. Amen.