St. Bartholomew beats the devil in a riddle contest

Pocket Bard’s notes: This is not the only riddle contest in The Golden Legend; in fact, even the riddles themselves are repeated. Very early in Volume I, there’s a similar story told about St. Andrew (as the text itself notes). However, in the St. Andrew story, it is the devil asking the questions and St. Andrew answering, instead of this story, where it’s St. Bartholomew’s question that’s the “Gotcha!” moment that forces the devil to tip his hand. I also like how there are multiple answers to the first two questions in this version. Makes it more interesting, I think. I’ll probably work this one up to use as a counterpoint to the St. Andrew version.

St. Bartholomew beats the devil in a riddle contest
The Golden Legend, Volume II, trans. William Granger Ryan, p.113-114

We read in a book of the miracles of the saints that there was a certain master who was accustomed to celebrate solemnly the feast of Saint Bartholomew. Once, as he was preaching on the feast day, the devil appeared to him in the form of a very alluring young woman. When the master’s eyes fell on her, he invited her to dinner, and while they were at table, the girl used all her wiles to make him desire her. Now blessed Bartholomew came to the door of the house in the guise of a pilgrim and begged insistently to be admitted for the love of Saint Bartholomew. The girl objected to this, so a loaf was carried out to the pilgrim by a messenger, but he refused to accept it. Instead he asked the master, via the messenger, to tell him what property or quality, in his opinion, was unique in man. The master said it was the power to laugh, but the young woman said: “No, it is sin! Man is conceived in sin, born in sin, and lives in sin!” The pilgrim approved the master’s reply but noted that the woman’s was more profound. He sent a second request, this time to tell him where on earth was the place, measuring not more than one foot, where God manifested the greatest miracles. The master replied: “The place where the cross stood. There God worked his wonders.” “No,” said the girl, “it is the human head, in which the world exists, as it were, in miniature.” The apostle approved both answers, but send in a third question: “What is the distance between the peak of heaven and the bottom of hell?” The master said that he did not know, but the woman broke in: “I’m caught! I know how far it is, because I fell the whole distance, and it is fitting that I show it to you!” Then the devil cast himself into hell with a dreadful shriek. When they looked for the pilgrim, he was not to be found.

A very similar story is told about Saint Andrew.


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