The basilica of San Bartolomeo all'Isola is over a thousand years old. It stands in Rome, on the Tiber Island, a place of particular importance for the history of Rome, halfway between Trastevere, the district of the first Christian preaching, and the ancient Jewish quarter.

The basilica of San Bartolomeo all’Isola is over a thousand years old. It stands in Rome, on the Tiber Island, a place of particular importance for the history of Rome, halfway between Trastevere, the district of the first Christian preaching, and the ancient Jewish quarter. This position in the middle of the Tiber, a key place for crossing the river, well expresses one of the most characteristic aspects of this basilica, which gathers memories linked to different and distant worlds, united together in a unique and original synthesis of faith, art and history.

The basilica was built in a place of pilgrimage already known: for centuries, in fact, there had been a temple dedicated to Aesculapius on the Tiber Island, and many people visited the sacred place to implore their healing. In 998, the German emperor Otto III built the church to house the remains of two martyrs: St Bartholomew the Apostle, whose body is kept in the high altar, and St Adalbert, bishop of Prague, who was killed in 997 while evangelising pagan populations at the northernmost border of Christian Europe.

The new building brought about a transformation in the fabric of the Tiber Island, expressive of the general change that took place in the city of Rome following the spread of Christianity. The well in the basilica, a very rare case, is an example of this process: it probably dates back to Roman times and its waters were considered thaumaturgical. Christians have been able to preserve and enhance that tradition: the well has become an evangelical symbol. In fact, in the ancient marble vera that overlooks it, there is a central image of Jesus that suggests to the beholder an association with the words from the Gospel of John: “He who is thirsty, let him come to me and drink who believes in me; as the Scripture says, rivers of living water will flow from his bosom” (Jn 7:38).

The Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament is accessed by climbing four steps, on the first of which is a pair of stylised lions, dating from the 12th century. The sculptures, characteristically the work of Roman…

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The Tiber Island is shaped like a ship in the middle of the Tiber, with two access points: the Cestius Bridge: late 19th century in appearance, but dating back to 46 B.C., of which only…

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Bartholomew of Cana ‘son of the farmer’, one of Jesus’ first disciples, would be that Nathanael ‘a genuine Israelite in whom there is no fraud’ (Jn 1:45-51) who had gone from an ironic and almost…

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On 23 April 997, Adalbert of Prague suffered martyrdom in the Prussian town of Tenkitten. The history of St Bartholomew’s Basilica begins here, in a remote region of northern Europe, several thousand kilometres away from…

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Walking down the nave to the steps leading to the presbytery area, one encounters the church’s most characteristic work. It is a wellhead (or puteal), about 80 cm high, made by re-using a Roman column…

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To the left of the apse is the chapel of Saint Adalbert. Founded by the Confraternity of Molinarians, who officiated there until 1846, the chapel originally bore the title of St Paulinus of Nola, under…

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The entire presbytery area is raised a few steps above the nave. As you ascend the steps, on the right, inside a lattice wall, you will find a large bronze basin of Arab workmanship, datable…

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In 1999, in preparation for the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, St. John Paul II established a ‘Commission of New Martyrs’ to investigate Christian martyrdom in the 20th century. The commission worked for two…

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