Saint James the Great, Patron of the Cathedral

Apostle and  Martyr

Born : date unknown

Died 44 in Judea

Venerated in all Christianity

Major Shrine : Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Galicia (Spain)

Feast Day July 25

Attributes :Three scallops and a traveller’s hat

Patron Saint of : Patron Saint of: Veterinarians, horse riders, furriers, tanners, pharmacists; Guatemala, Nicaragua, Spain, Arthritis and rheumatism sufferers, blacksmiths; Chile; knights, soldiers; labourers; pilgrimsSaint James, son of Zebedee, aka St. James the Greater (Hebrew Yakob; Septuagint Iakob; N.T. Greek Iakobos; a common Jewish name).

St James Cross



Saint James was the son of Zebedee (bar-Zebedee) and Salome (Cf. Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; 16:1) and brother of St John. Since the name of James usually occurs before that of his brother, James was probably the elder of the two. He is called James the Greater to distinguish him from the other apostle James, son of Alphaeus, called James the Less.

Zebedee was a fisherman of the Lake of Galilee, who lived in or near Bethsaida (John 1:44). The family were people of means: they could afford hired servants (Mark 1:20), and had connections with the high priest (John 18:16). James, John, Peter and Andrew were partners in Zebedee’s fishing business before being called by Christ to follow Him. (Luke 5:10).

Their mother Salome was one of the pious women who followed Christ and “ministered unto him of their substance” (cf. Matthew 27:55 sq.; Mark 15:40; 16:1; Luke 8:2 sq.; 23:55-24:1). 

The sons had the not attended a rabbinical school (Acts 4:13). They would have come into regular contact with Greek life and language, which were already widespread along the shores of the Galilean Sea. 

Salome is sometimes identified as the sister of the Blessed Virgin (based on an interpretation of John 19:25, Matthew 28:56 and Mark 15:40). If correct, James and John were first cousins of the Lord and this may explain the discipleship of the two brothers, Salome’s request and their own claim to the first position in His kingdom, and Christ’s commendation of the Blessed Virgin to her own nephew. 

James was one of the first disciples to join Jesus. His brother had heard John the Baptist proclaim the kingdom of the Messiah (John 1:35) and presumably shared this message with him. Later, when James and John were fishing with their father at the Sea of Galilee, Jesus called them to begin travelling (Matthew 4:18-22, Mark 1:19-20), Luke 5:1-11). The sons of Zebedee “forthwith left their nets and father, and followed him” to become “fishers of men”? (Matthew 4:22)

St. James was later called with the other eleven to the Apostleship (Matthew 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16; Acts 1:13).

James was a Galilean, a race famous for being religious, industrious, hardy, brave, and the strongest defender of the Jewish nation. Jesus nicknamed James and John “Boanerges”, or the “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17), probably meaning that they were headstrong, hot-tempered, impulsive and impetuous in their evangelical zeal. 

The two brothers certainly showed this temperament against “a certain man casting out devils” in the name of the Christ; John and James “forbade him, because he followeth not with us” (Luke 9:49). And when (Luke 9:54ff) Jesus and the disciples were refused the hospitality of a Samaritan village, James and John proposed calling down fire from heaven on the offenders. 

On the last journey to Jerusalem, their mother Salome asked Jesus to promise that “my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left, in thy kingdom”. The brothers, still ignorant of the spiritual nature of the Messianic Kingdom, supported their mother in this ambition for a special place of honour in a Kingdom on earth. When they stated their willingness to drink the chalice that He drinks of, and to be baptized with the baptism of His sufferings, Jesus told them that the place of honour is the place of suffering and assured them that they will share His sufferings. (Mt 20:20-23, Mk 10:35-41)

In all four Gospels the names of Peter, James and John form a specially prominent and chosen group (cf. Mark 13:3). These three Apostles alone were admitted to be present at the miracle of the raising of Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5:37; Luke 8:51), at the Transfiguration (Mark 9:1; Matthew 17:1; Luke 9:28), and called to watch and pray with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane on the night before His death (Matthew 26:37; Mark 14:33). 



Not much is known of James after the Lord’s resurrection, but it is thought that he lived another 14 years before his martyrdom. 

Many believe that, in this 14 year period, James preached the Gospel in Spain and in other lands, before returning to Jerusalem to die. But that is another story. 

James was the first apostle to suffer martyrdom and the only one of the Twelve whose death is recorded in the New Testament. He was beheaded with a sword in Jerusalem about the feast of Easter (Acts 12:1-2), sometime between 41 and 44AD by order of Herod Agrippa I (40-44AD), grandson of Herod the Great, nephew of Herod Antipas (who killed John the Baptist and examined Jesus on Good Friday), and father of Herod Agrippa II (who heard the defence of Paul before Festus (Acts 25). 

Herod aimed to please the Jews in every way. He showed great regard for the Mosaic Law and Jewish customs, and persecuted the early Church. The zealous temper of James and his leading part in the Jewish Christian communities may have led to Agrippa choosing him as the first Apostolic victim.

Various legends have arisen around James’ death.


 St James Scallop Shell

The Orthodox tradition believes that, on his return to Jerusalem, James openly and boldly preached Jesus Christ as the Saviour of the world, and he denounced the Pharisees and the Scribes with the words of Holy Scripture, reproaching them for their malice of heart and unbelief.

The Jews hired the sorcerer Hermogenes to dispute with James and refute his arguments that Christ was the promised Messiah. The sorcerer sent to the apostle his pupil Philip, who was converted to belief in Christ Next, Hermogenes himself became persuaded of the power of God, burned his books of magic, accepted holy Baptism and became a follower of Christ. 

The Jews then persuaded Herod Agrippa to sentence James to death (Acts 12:1-2). Eusebius (c.260-c.340), quoting Clement of Alexandra (c.150-c.215) provides some of the details of the saint’s execution. St James calmly heard the death sentence and continued to bear witness to Christ. One of the false witnesses, Josiah, was struck by the courage of St James and came to believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah. When they led the apostle to execution, Josiah fell at his feet, repenting of his sin and asking forgiveness. The apostle embraced him, gave him a kiss and said, “Peace and forgiveness to you.” Then Josiah confessed his faith in Christ before everyone, and he was beheaded with St James. 

As Clement testifies expressly that the account was given him “?by those who were before him,” this tradition has a better foundation than many other traditions and legends respecting the Apostolic labours and death of St. James, which are related in the Latin “Passio Jacobi Majoris” and the Ethiopic “Acts of James”.

Anglican Visitor v.26, n.2 Feast of St James 2007 pp.14-16

Pilgrimage Souvenirs