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October 2013

Bartholomew the Apostle: The Saint of Dermatology

Author Affiliations
  • 1Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island
  • 2Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland
JAMA Dermatol. 2013;149(10):1194. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2013.6135

Bartholomew the apostle has long been associated with skin diseases and may be considered the patron saint of dermatology. This distinction is attributed to one theory regarded his proposed manner of death. After Bartholomew cured the daughter of King Polymios of Armenia, the King converted to Christianity. As a result, Astyages, the King’s brother, sentenced St Bartholomew to be flayed and skinned alive, after which he was crucified upside down. In the Sistine Chapel, he is depicted in Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” as flayed and holding his own skin in his left hand.1 In Marco d’Agrate’s statue of St Bartholomew, found in the Basilica of Santa Maria della Steccata in Parma, Italy, he is depicted carrying his skin across his body similar to a coat or blanket. Because of this gruesome history, he has been recognized as the saint of dermatology.1 This association has also earned him the designation of patron saint of tanning, in which animal skin is removed and processed to create functional goods.