Saint James

Son of Zebedee

Apostle James the Greater

According to the New Testament, James the Great, also known as James son of Zebedee or Saint James the Greater, was one of Jesus’ Twelve Apostles and part of His inner circle. One of the James Facts is that according to Catholic tradition, Apostle James spread Christianity in Spain.

He was beheaded in Jerusalem in 44, and his remains were later transported to Galicia in a stone boat to the site of Santiago de Compostela Cathedral.

Patron saints are not unique to Roman Catholicism, but also to Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, and some branches of Islam. The patron saint of pilgrims and Spain is St James the Greater, Son of Zebedee.

Saint James the Apostle
Saint James the Apostle

St James the Greater was one of Jesus Christ’s disciples and was thought to be his cousin by the Virgin Mary’s sister, and the brother of St Jude Thaddeus.

He shared a fishing boat with his brother John, his father Zebedee, and his partner Simon. John and James were disciples of John the Baptist and, later, of Jesus.

When Jesus called James and his brother John to be “fishers of men,” they left their lives as fishermen. He was one of Jesus’ disciples until he was crucified by the Romans.


According to Christian myth, Saint James Son of Zebedee was born in Galilee around the year 5 BC. His parents appear to have been well-to-do. His father, Zebedee, was a Sea of Galilee fisherman who probably lived in or near Bethsaida, possibly in Capharnaum, and had some boatmen or hired men.

His mother, Salome, was one of the pious women who later followed Christ and “ministered to him of their substance.”

His brother was John the Apostle, who, according to Christian tradition, was the only Apostle who did not die as a martyr and is the author of several New Testament books. According to the Church Fathers, his brother is the same person as John the Evangelist, John of Patmos, and the Beloved Disciple.

Because of their impulsive personalities, both brothers were nicknamed “Boanerges” (“Sons of Thunder”) and were among the first disciples to join Jesus Christ.

According to the Synoptic Gospels, James and John were in a boat with their father mending their nets when Jesus called them to follow him.

James was one of the chosen three who witnessed the Transfiguration (metamorphosis), the resurrected daughter of Jairus, and the agony in Gethsemani.

Life Lessons

Despite everything James went through as a disciple of Jesus, his faith remained shaky until the resurrection. When he and his brother asked Jesus for the honor of sitting beside him in glory, Jesus only promised them a share of his suffering (Mark 10:35; Mark 10:36; Mark 10:37; Mark 10:38; Mark 10:39; Mark 10:40; Mark 10:41; Mark 10:42; Mark 10:43; Mark 10:44; Mark 10:45).

They discovered that the greatest calling of a Jesus follower is to serve others. Following Jesus Christ can lead to adversity, persecution, and even death, but the reward is eternal life with him in heaven.


An apocryphal text known as The Gospel of the Twelve suggested in the first century that when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles at Pentecost (Acts 2), they were each empowered to speak the language of the people they were called to reach (like the Tower of Babel, but in reverse). James spoke Latin, which was primarily spoken in the Roman Empire’s western half.

However, it wasn’t until hundreds of years later that someone suggested James travel to Spain.

A text known as the Breviary of the Apostles, written in the sixth century, claimed that James spread the gospel to Spain and was buried somewhere near the sea, west of Spain.

This assertion was repeated in poems, hymns, biographies, and commentaries in the seventh and eighth centuries. In the early ninth century, a bright star is said to have guided a shepherd to Saint James’ tomb in Galicia, in what is now known as Santiago de Compostela.

To accomplish this, James would have had to leave Jerusalem to evangelize Spain, then return to Jerusalem to be executed in 44 AD, and then have his remains transported back to Spain to be buried.

At the time, this legend was widely accepted, and the burial site became one of the most popular Christian pilgrimages. However, most modern scholars have found little evidence to support James’ ministry in Spain or his alleged burial there.

Even Paul makes it appear less credible. In Romans 15, he says,

“It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was unknown so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation” (Romans 15:20),

and he plans to go to Spain next (Romans 15:23; Romans 15:24).

Nobody has taken the gospel to Spain, but it would be strange for Paul to say,

“I prefer to go where nobody has spread the gospel before, which is why I’m going where James went.”

The majority of scholars believe James never made it to Spain. He died in Jerusalem, early in the Christian movement. This Spanish missionary journey was not mentioned again until the sixth century, and the discovery of his burial site was simply too fantastical. Despite its mythical origins, this pilgrimage, known as the Camino de Santiago, has remained popular to this day.

St. James with Jesus

James was one of the apostles who sought power and authority over the others, which Jesus chastised:

“And Zebedee’s sons, James and John, come to him, saying, “Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatever we shall desire.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” They said to him, “Grant us a seat in thy glory, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left.”

(Matthew 10:35; Matthew 10:36; Matthew 10:37; Matthew 10:38; Matthew 10:39; Matthew 10:40)

Jesus uses this occasion to reiterate his lesson about how a person who wants to be “great” in God’s kingdom must learn to be the “least” here on earth, serving all others and putting their needs and desires ahead of their own.

Not only are James and John chastised for seeking their glory, but the rest of the disciples are also chastised for being jealous of this.

This is one of the few times in the Bible when Jesus is quoted as having a lot to say about political power. He focuses on religious issues the majority of the time. In chapter 8, he warned against being tempted by the “leaven of the Pharisees…and Herod’s leaven,” but when it comes to specifics, he has always focused on the Pharisees’ problems.


James was not the first Christian martyr, as Stephen was, who was stoned to death in Acts 7:54; Acts 7:55; Acts 7:56; Acts 7:57; Acts 7:58; Acts 7:59 Acts 7:60. James died as a result of being beheaded, as recorded in the Book of Acts (Acts 12:1; Acts 12:2; Acts 12:3): “About that time, Herod laid violent hands on some of the church’s members.” He killed James, John’s brother, with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he arrested Peter as well.

This was during the Unleavened Bread period.” As a result, the Apostle James was the first to die as a martyr. Only one apostle, ironically, escaped death for his faith, and that was his brother, the Apostle John.

The Death of James

Martyrs and confessors are the two types of saints. A Christian martyr is someone who is executed for his or her Christian beliefs. Confessors are people who died as a result of natural causes.

In 44 AD, King Herod Agrippa I captured and beheaded James for heresy after he made the perilous journey back to Jerusalem to pay his respects. Even though James died in Jerusalem, his ashes were returned to his beloved Galicia, and a church was built over them. This was the beginning of Santiago de Compostela’s cathedral, and the body of St. James is said to be buried there to this day.

Church leader

After the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, a church was formed in Jerusalem, headed, so it seems, by James, the brother of our Lord. The degree to which James had been transformed becomes quite evident when we see the honor and respect the early Christians gave to him.

As the leader of the church in Jerusalem, Saul of Tarsus conferred with him when he returned there after his encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road.

James, who presided over the famous ‘Jerusalem Council’ and delivered the ruling, later conveyed to the churches by letter that Gentiles coming into the Christian faith were not required to be circumcised or to keep the laws of Moses.

Author and Writer

Some scholars believe that the brother of our Lord did not author the letter of James because of how he introduces himself in the opening verse: “James, a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” If James, the Lord’s brother, wrote it, he would have affirmed this fact in his opening remarks.

However, such a view does not consider the tremendous impact that Christ’s death and resurrection made upon James. The writer is so taken up with the fact of Christ’s Lordship—” a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ”—that by comparison, the fact that he was Christ’s brother seems to be of no great importance. James rejoiced, not so much in his earthly relationship to Christ, but in his heavenly one.

A Hotheaded Man

It was probably for this type of hotheaded rashness and fanaticism that the surname “Boanerges,” which means “Sons of Thunder,” was bestowed on them when they were ordained to the Twelve, MAR 3:17. Note, however, that there was some excuse for their action.

The impression left by the Transfiguration was still greatly upon them. They felt strongly that their Lord, whom they had just beheld “in His glory” with “His countenance altered” and “shining garments,” should not be subjected to such indignities by the Samaritans.

Upon the occasion of our Lord’s last journey to Jerusalem, the two brothers gave expression to this presumptuous rashness in a more selfish manner. They presumed their intimacy with Jesus and made the following request.

“And James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Him, saying to Him, ‘Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.’ And He said to them, ‘What do you want Me to do for you?’ And they said to Him, ‘Grant that we may sit in Your glory, one on Your right, and one on Your left.’

But Jesus said to them,

‘You do not know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?’

And they said to Him,

‘We are able.’

And Jesus said to them,

‘The cup that I drink you shall drink, and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. But to sit on My right or on My left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’”

In Matthew 20:20Matthew 20:21Matthew 20:22Matthew 20:23Matthew 20:24Matthew 20:25Matthew 20:26Matthew 20:27Matthew 20:28, these words are put in their mother’s mouth, not directly from James and John. However, this request drew forth the rebuke of Jesus and moved the other ten with indignation”. And hearing this; the ten began to feel indignant with James and John.

Summary Characteristics

Each of the synoptic Gospels identifies James as an early disciple of Jesus. James, the son of Zebedee, often called James the Greater to distinguish him from the other apostle named James, was a member of Christ’s inner circle, which included his brother, the apostle John, and Peter.

Not only did James and John earn a special nickname from the Lord — “sons of thunder” — they were privileged to be at the front and center of three supernatural events in the life of Christ.


St James the Greater facts, the disciple made us understand that St James is one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. He is called ‘the Greater to distinguish him from ‘James the Less‘, another Apostle of Jesus. He was the first Apostle to be martyred when Herod Agrippa ordered his death, in about AD 44.

Two apostles named James

Interested in learning more about the remarkable lives of the two Apostles named James? We invite you to explore the shared names and distinct paths of these influential figures who played pivotal roles in the early Christian Church.

The saints of the Christian church can often be identified by a device, known as their attribute. Here St. James holds a pilgrim’s staff with a drinking bottle attached. He is usually depicted as a pilgrim and often wears a hat with a cockleshell attached. In the medieval period, the story of St. James was greatly embellished. In northern Spain, a legend developed that he had traveled to the coast of Galicia to convert the local population. After he was martyred in Jerusalem, his servant brought his body back to Galicia by sea.

As the boat approached the shore, a startled horse threw its rider to the ground, and the man drowned. The servant prayed, and miraculously the man emerged alive from the water, covered in cockleshells, hence James’s shell.

In the early 9th century the bishop of the area claimed that God had told him where to find the body of St James. He built a church on the site. By the 11th century, Santiago de Compostela was a major pilgrimage destination; it still attracts thousands every year. Saints were often thought of as protectors, and the possession of relics of an important one was to be ensured divine protection

The Story and History

The story and history of Saint James the Greater, who was one of the disciples of Jesus. James was prominent amongst the twelve apostles. He was James, the son of Zebedee, who was considered the greater apostle of those called James.

James is thought to be a cousin of Jesus, by the sister of the Virgin Mary, and the brother of Saint Jude Thaddeus. James worked as a fisherman with his brother John, his father Zebedee, and his partner Simon. John and James were followers of John the Baptist and then Jesus.

John the Baptist referred to Jesus with the words “Behold the Lamb of God!”. He left his life as a fisherman when Jesus called him to be a fisher of men.

One of the facts is that he followed Jesus as one of his disciples until Jesus was crucified. James was chosen by Jesus to be one of the twelve apostles and was given the mission to spread the gospel of Jesus.

He made a pilgrimage to Spain to spread the word. St James returned to Judea, where he was beheaded by King Herod Agrippa I (10 BC – 44 AD) in the year 44. This is detailed in the Bible in Acts 12 of the New Testament. The remains, or relics, of Saint James the Greater, are said to be buried in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia (Spain) explaining why Saint James is the patron saint of Spain.

The Legend of St James the Greater

St James the Greater Facts, or according to the Spanish form of his name, St Lago, is also the great military patron of Spain. His mission to defend the Christian Church against invaders was however reserved until after his death.

During the celebrated battle of Clavijo, he suddenly appeared on a milk-white charger, waving aloft a white standard, and leading the Christians to victory.

This manifestation was in response to the soldiers’ invocation of his name, “Saint Lago!” as the battle cry of that day. Hence, the name of the ancient city (Santiago) which is where the cathedral was founded in his honor.

Author of Book of James

St James the Greater Facts solves the issue that some people confuse the Apostle James as the author of the Book of James but that James was the half-brother of Jesus who only professed faith in Christ after Jesus rose from the dead.

By the time the Book of James was written, and it appears to be the first book written in the New Testament around 45 AD, James the son of Zebedee had already lost his life.

Only a few of the apostles wrote books in the New Testament and James the son of Zebedee was not one of them, however, his brother, the Apostle John, wrote five books; the Gospel of John, 1st, 2nd, 3rd John, and of course the Book of Revelation although the actual author was Jesus Christ (Rev 1:1)

Apostle James Symbol

One of the facts is that James, also known as James the son of Zebedee, was one of Jesus’ inner circle in the gospels. Along with Peter and his brother, John, James was a witness to Jesus’ transfiguration and many other events that Jesus showed only to the three.

Tradition has it that James traveled widely to preach the gospel, going as far as Spain. One of his symbols, the shell, comes from the legend that these shells were numerous on the shore on which James arrived in Spain. He has a couple of other common symbols.

The sword indicates how he was killed by King Herod, recorded in Acts 12. A traveling stick also points to his extensive journeys.

The Feast Day of St James

St James facts tell us that the Feast Day of St James the Greater is July 25th and is widely celebrated in Spain, especially in Santiago de Compostela, where they hold a firework display at the end of a two-week celebration.

When the Feast of St James falls on a Sunday that year will be a Camino Holy Year, also known as a Year of Compostela, or Jacobean Year. During these years visitors to the Cathedral in Santiago can receive a plenary indulgence.

Apostle James Actions

James, along with his brother John, is portrayed in the gospels as perhaps being more important than most of the other apostles. He was present at the resurrection of Jarius’s daughter, at Jesus’s transfiguration, and at the Garden of Gethsemane before Jesus was arrested. Other than a few references to him in the New Testament, however, we have no information about who James was or what he did.

The Origin of Feast Days

Most saints have specially designated feast days that are associated with a specific day of the year. The feast days first arose from the very early Christian custom of the annual commemoration of martyrs on the dates of their deaths at the same time celebrating their birth into heaven.

Saint James Son of Zebedee Facts Conclusion

St James the Greater Facts state that James is the elder brother of John. He is a rather quiet part of the team of disciples in that we don’t read much about him in Scripture.

As part of Jesus’ “inner three” he was permitted to be present along with Peter and John when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:37), he witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 17:1), and he was in the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus. (Mark 14:33)

James was the first disciple to be martyred (he was beheaded) and the only disciple to have their martyrdom recorded in Scripture. (Acts 12:1Acts 12:2Acts 12:3)

Summary Saint James Son of Zebedee

James was one of the first twelve disciples. When Jesus summoned the brothers, James and John were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee with their father Zebedee. They left their father and their business right away to follow the young rabbi. Because James is always mentioned first, he was most likely the older of the two brothers.

Jesus invited James, John, and Peter three times to witness events that no one else witnessed: the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:37; Mark 5:38; Mark 5:39; Mark 5:40; Mark 5:41; Mark 5:42; Mark 5:43; Mark 5:44; Mark 5:45; Mark 5:46; Mark 5:47), the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1; Matthew 17:2; Matthew 17:3), and Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36; Matthew 26:37).

But James wasn’t above making blunders. When a Samaritan village rejected Jesus, he and John wished to summon fire from heaven. As a result, they were dubbed “Boanerges,” or “sons of thunder.” The mother of James and John went too far when she asked Jesus to give her sons special positions in his kingdom.

Because of his devotion to Jesus, James was the first of the twelve apostles to be martyred. On the order of King Herod Agrippa I of Judea, he was killed with the sword around 44 A.D., as part of the general persecution of the early church.

In the New Testament, there are two other men named James: James, the son of Alphaeus, another of Christ’s chosen apostles, and James, the brother of the Lord, a leader in the Jerusalem church and author of the book of James.

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