In its thousand-year-old history the church of St. Bartholomew on the Island was often rebuilt, especially after a terrible flood which in 1557 destroyed the building – in 1624 it was rebuilt in the Baroque style by OrazioTorriani; the facade with portico come from this period. The middle-aged accent was only the Romanesque bell tower from XII century which rises on the left side of the façade.

Treasures of the basilica of St. Bartholomew on the Island

Inside the basilica it is worth paying attention to the marble outer layer of wells which is on the stairs leading to a presbytery. It comes from the first church and was built on a hot spring which used to be considered as miraculous. The outer layer is decorated with four brass reliefs presenting Risen Christ, apostle Bartholomew, Otto III and St. Wojciech (some scientists think that it is the oldest image of the saint). The relics od St. Bartholomew are kept in the ancient bath from porphyry on which there is white marble mensa of the main altar. Whereas, the relics of St. Wojciech are in the chapel on the left side of the apse. In 1976 its previous altar was pulled down and replaced with the new one in which the reliquary of the Saint was placed in the form of an artistically made metal chest.

In 1993 the basilica was entrusted to the Italian Community of St. Giles. Whereas since the year 1999 in places near churches the Commission ‘New Martyrs’ have functioned. John Paul II established it within preparations for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. That is what the Pope wrote in the bulla ‘Incarnationismysterium’, proclaiming the Jubilee as: ‘A Testimony of theTruth of Christian Love – always clear, today even unusually significant – is the remembrance about martyrs. Let their testimony be not forgotten. They proclaimed the Gospel, giving their life for the sake of love. Especially in our epoch a martyr is a sign of this greatest love in which there are all other values. (…) During two thousand years since the birth of Christ the testimony of martyrs has always been present. Also our century, approaching the end, gave a lot of martyrs who died mainly as the victims of Nazism and communism and race or tribe fights. People of all social spheres suffered for faith, paying their blood for their belonging to Christ and the Church or suffering bravely many years in prisons or various sufferings, not to get subjected to the pressures of the ideology which changed into a merciless dictatorship. From the psychological point of view martyrdom is the most significant evidence for the truthfulness of faith, which can give the human expression even to the most sudden death and reveals its beauty during the most cruel persecutions’. The fruit of the work of the commission, which has functioned at the basilica of St. Bartholomew for two years, was preparation of over 12 thousand acts concerning the martyrs and faith witnesses of our times. It was decided that after the end of the Holy Year the basilica would become their sanctuary where their relics and souvenirs would be collected.

On 12 October 2002 an ecumenical celebration took place with the participation of cardinals Ruini, Kasper and George and the Orthodox patriarch of Romania Teoctist, during which at the main altar of the temple a huge icon of martyrs of XX century was hung up and sanctified. Whereas the relics and souvenirs of martyrs and faith witnesses were placed in side temples according to the following key: in the first chapel of the right nave – martyrs and faith witnesses from Asia, Oceania and the Near East, in the second – from America, in the third – the victims of communist regimes; the left nave: in the first chapel – martyrs from Africa, in the second – from Spain and Mexico, in the third one – the victims of Nazism.

In the chapels of the basilica we can see among the others: a letter of Brother Christian de Cherge, a Trappist from the monastery Notre-Dame de l’Atlas in Algeria, killed with his co-brothers by Islamic fundamentalists; a destroyed crucifix saved in the church Sant Marti de Palafrugell burned by communists during the Spanish Civil War; a letter of blessed Franz Jagerstatter, an Austrian Catholic who was killed in 1943 for his refusal of serving in the Nazis army; the relics of Blessed Cardinal von Galen, the bishop of Munster, an oppositionist of the Nazis regime; a can of communicants for secret celebration of the holy mass, used by priests kept in prisons in Szkodra in communist Albania; a rosary of the Orthodox priest Aleksander Mien, killed in 1990 in Moscow; the missal of bishop Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador, killed at the altar during the holy mass on 24 March 1980; a chalice, paten and a stole of Fr. Andrea Santor, a Roman priest ‘fide donum’, killed in a church during a prayer in the Turkish city Trabzon on 5 February 2006.

From19 October 2012 there are also the relics of the three Polish blessed in the basilica: Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko, Karolina Kózkówna, StanisławStarowieyski.

To remember to live better

John Paul II insisted in the homily given in the Colloseum on the occasion of ecumenical reminiscence of martyrs, faith witnesses of the XX century: ‘Let the lively memory be in the recently started century and millennium about those our brothers and sisters. What’s more – let it grow! Let it be told from generation to generation, so that it would bring fruits of deep Christian renewal! Let it be guarded like a treasure of great value for the Christians of the new millennium and let it become a grain of full unity of all disciples of Christ!’. Placing the relics of the three Polish blessed in the Roman sanctuary is somehow a fulfillment of this papal wish. Poles arriving in Rome should visit the basilica of St. Bartholomew on the Island because the temple became also a pantheon of the Polish martyrs and faith witnesses of the XX century.


It is not only one of the most beautiful and most romantic places of Rome but also a place which reflects well the history of the Eternal City. In the year 293 BE the temple of Esculapus was built here (the Roman equivalent of the Greek Asklepios – god of medical skills, adored in the form of a snake) and from this moment the temple became a place visited by ill people. Today in the previous island of Esculapus there is a big hospital run by the Bonifrats’ monks. Whereas in the place of the ancient temple about the year 1000 Otto III ordered to build a church where the relics of St. Wojciech, the Caesar’s friend and the martyr in Prusia were to be buried, who was canonized in the year 999. Because the Caesar had brought the relics of St. Paolin of Nola here as well, and first of all, the apostle of Bartholomew a new name became adapted: the church of St. Bartholomew on the Island (San Bartolomeoall’Isola).


"Niedziela" 44/2012

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl