Saint James the Greater

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St. 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 Saint James Son of Zebedee Facts is that according to Catholic tradition, the son of Zebedee, the Apostle Saint 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 Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, and some branches of Islam.

The patron saint of pilgrims and Spain is St James the Greater, Son of Zebedee.

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, father Zebedee, and 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.

lucas cranach the elder, saint james the greater, woodcut, rosenwald collection, 1952.8.219
"Lucas Cranach the Elder, Saint James the Greater, woodcut, Rosenwald Collection, 1952.8.219"

Saint James Birth/Origins

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.

St. James Achievements

St James, or St Lago as it is spelt in Spanish, is also the great military patron of Spain. However, his mission to defend the Christian Church against invaders was postponed until after his death.

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

This manifestation occurred in response to the soldiers’ use of his name as the battle cry on that particular day, “Sant lago!” As a result, the ancient city (Santiago) was named after him, and the cathedral was built in his honor.

saint paul the apostle church (westerville, ohio) - stained glass, arcade, saint james the greater
Saint Paul the Apostle Church (Westerville, Ohio) - stained glass, arcade, Saint James the Greater

Life Lessons of St James

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 10:35–45).

They were discovering 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.

Saint James Travels

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 15:23–24).

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 the Greater 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.

lucas cranach the elder, saint james the greater
Lucas Cranach the Elder, Saint James the Greater

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 10:35-40)

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 one’s 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.

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Statue of Saint James, Son of Zebedee

Saint James Arrest

James was not the first Christian martyr, as Stephen was, who was stoned to death in Acts 7:54-60. James died as a result of being beheaded, as recorded in the Book of Acts (12:1-3): “About that time, Herod the king 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 Saint 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 Saint 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.

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Saint James the Greater

Saint James Key Takeaway

Because he was one of the most outspoken apostles, and given that King Herod killed James, it could have been James’ proclivity to speak boldly for Christ and speak against the evil that King Herod was well known for. In any case, the Apostle James was completely transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

He was impulsive, outspoken, easily provoked to anger, and highly impulsive, and had a so-called “hair trigger” at one time, but like John, who became known as “the apostle whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23), he became a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17) and was forever changed, and today is one of the 12 apostles who will rule or judge the 12 tribes of Israel in God’s coming kingdom (Matt 19:28). That was the Apostle, James.

Saint James Son of Zebedee Summary

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 5:37-47), the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-3), and Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-37).

james the greater apostle hajdudorog frame
James the Greater Apostle Hajdudorog Frame

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 “son 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 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.

Frequently Asked Questions Saint James Son of Zebedee

Who is James in the Bible?

Saint James was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. He is sometimes referred to as James the Greater to distinguish him from James, son of Alphaeus, who is also known as James the Lesser. Saint James was martyred under King Herod Agrippa I in 44 AD. According to tradition, his remains were later brought to Spain, where they are now enshrined in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

What miracles did Saint James the Greater perform?

The Book of Acts records that Saint James the Greater performed a number of miracles, including healing the sick, raising the dead, and casting out demons. He was also responsible for bringing one of the first Gentile converts to Christianity, converted following a vision of Jesus.

Why is the scallop shell the symbol of St James?

There are a couple of different theories out there as to why the scallop shell is the symbol of Saint James. One theory says that because Saint James’s feast day falls on July 25th, which is also the feast day of Saint Helena (the mother of Constantine), scallops were traditionally eaten on her feast day. Saint James was traditionally represented holding a pilgrim’s staff and shell in early Christian iconography, so it’s possible that the connection between him and the shell dates back to this early religious symbolism.
Another theory is that during the Middle Ages, pilgrims would often pick up shells as souvenirs from their travels to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain, where Saint James is said to be buried.

Where is the tomb of St James?

The tomb of St. James is located in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. It is said to contain the remains of the apostle Saint James the Greater, who is believed to have been martyred in Jerusalem in AD 44. Santiago de Compostela was a major pilgrimage destination in the Middle Ages, and the tomb of St. James was highly venerated by pilgrims. The tomb is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

What is Saint James the Greater known for?

There are many things Saint James the Greater is known for, but perhaps chief among them is his zealousness for spreading the gospel. For James, there was no such thing as too much evangelism; he was always looking for ways to reach more people with the good news of Jesus Christ. This attitude led him to adopt some fairly unorthodox methods, such as going into enemy territory to preach the gospel or traveling to remote regions that had never heard of Christianity. His boldness and commitment earned him a reputation as one of the most effective evangelists of his era.

What is St James the Greater symbol?

St. James the Greater is a symbol of faith and devotion. He was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ and his feast day is celebrated on July 25. According to legend, St. James led the Christian army to victory against the Muslims in Spain. Because of this, he is also known as Santiago Matamoros (Saint James the Moor slayer). Today, devotees of St. James wear a scallop shell badge as a sign of their pilgrimage to his shrine in Compostela, Spain. The scallop shell also serves as a reminder that we are all called to be pilgrims on our journey through life, seeking after God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Resources Saint James Son of Zebedee

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