The seed of wisdom is self knowledge. As a community, the key to our collective identity lies largely in myth and folklore. With that in mind it may be useful to examine the history behind one of our city’s most unusual architectural wonders.
St. Bart’s Church at the corner of East Main Street and Silver Street, with its Romanesque features, blue stone exterior, clay tile roof and stunning bell tower, rings out a message of hope and salvation from another land and another age. Originally built by hoards of immigrants from the Island of Lipari, just north of Sicily, it testifies to the power and the glory of a martyr who was skinned alive for his commitment to Divine Illumination.
St. Bartholomew, totally without guile, might today be heard reiterating the idiom, “It is what it is.” His faith transcended mere belief. It was rather a mystic certainty born not from whimsical momentary communion with Divinity but total permanent absorption into the ecstasy of oneness with the universe. For him horrifying death was a ticket to joyous eternity.
As a child, my grandfather took me on his knee to tell the story of how the people of Lipari came to venerate St. Bartholomew. Shortly after the time of Christ a great famine fell upon the island. Starvation claimed the lives of many. Then a mysterious ship appeared in the harbor bearing the name “St. Bartholomew.” It docked and all the sailors, each of them named “Bartholomew” began unloading sacks of wheat. The people were overjoyed. Their hunger was satisfied. The next day they returned to the harbor to repay the sailors but the boat was gone. The body of the saint had washed ashore. Folktales describe how no one could lift it except the innocent children. The people built a great Basilica and to this day the feast of St. Bartholomew is celebrated there not once but four times a year. Immigrants brought this tradition to Norwich a century ago.
Upon passing the Church of St. Bartholomew in Norwich the chance always presents itself to look up at his statue perched above the rose window and make the sign of the cross. Calling down his grace is as simple as that. His sacred edifice throbs with Divine energy and gushes holiness with the force of a mystic geyser-like fountain to enrich our community. He offers not just food for our mortal bodies but nourishment for our immortal souls. This year’s feast day celebrations take place on August 24th and 25th. We all have the opportunity to participate in this tradition. Let’s not waste it.