(3 A.D.-44 A.D.)
James was among the first 12 Apostles of Jesus. The son of Zebedee, James was the older brother of John and is called “the Greater” to distinguish him from the Apostle James “the Less,” who probably was shorter in stature.
Some scholars believe that Salome, the mother of James and John, was a sister of the Blessed Virgin Mary, making them first cousins of the Jesus. This would explain the discipleship of the two brothers, their claim to the first position in His kingdom, and Christ’s commendation of the Mary to her own nephew. Other interpreters of early Greek versions of the Gospels say the relationship of St. James to Jesus is doubtful.
The two brothers, Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew with whom they were in partnership (Luke 5:10), were called by the Lord upon the Sea of Galilee, where all four with Zebedee and his hired servants were engaged in their ordinary occupation of fishing. The sons of Zebedee “forthwith left their nets and father, and followed him” (Matthew 4:22), and became “fishers of men”.
James and John were known as the Boanerges, “sons of thunder.” (Mark 3:17) As Galileans, they were known to be religious, hardy, industrious, brave and strong defenders of the Jewish nation. They were burning and impetuous in their evangelical zeal and severe in temper.
The two brothers showed their fiery temperament against “a certain man casting out devils” in the name of the Christ; John, answering, said: “We (James is probably meant) forbade him, because he followeth not with us” (Luke 9:49). When the Samaritans refused to receive Christ, James and John said: “Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them?” (Luke 9:54; cf. 9:49).
On the last journey to Jerusalem, their mother, Salome, spoke to Jesus saying, “Say that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left, in thy kingdom” (Matthew 20:21). The brothers, not comprehending the spiritual nature of that kingdom, joined with their mother in that request (Mark 10:37). Upon their assertion that they were willing to “drink the chalice that He drank of, and to be baptized with the baptism of His sufferings,” Jesus assured them that they would share His sufferings (Mark 10:38-39).
Fourteen years after this prophecy (A.D. 44), James would be martyred at the hands of Herod Agrippa I, who in his desire to please the Jews, Mosaic Law and Jewish customs, perpetrated cruelties upon the church. The zealous temper of James and his leading part in the Jewish Christian communities probably led Herod Agrippa to choose him as the first victim. “He killed James, the brother of John, with the sword.” (Acts 12:1-2).
An old tradition says that James the Greater preached the Gospel in Spain, returned to Judea and then was put to death by order of Herod. His body was then miraculously transported to Iria Flavia in the northwest of Spain, and later to the town of Compostela, which during the Middle Ages, became one of the most famous places of pilgrimage in the world. The vow of making a pilgrimage to Compostela to honor the sepulchre of St. James still is reserved to the pope, who alone of his own or ordinary right can dispense from it.
Many challenges have been raised to this story. St. James suffered martyrdom in 44 A.D. (Acts 12:2), and, according to the tradition of the early church, he had not yet left Jerusalem at that time (cf. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata VI; Apollonius, quoted by Eusebius, Church History VI.18). St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans (A.D. 58) expressed his intention to visit Spain (Romans 15:24) just after he had mentioned (15:20) that he did not “build upon another man’s foundation.” Although the tradition that James founded an Apostolic see in Spain was current in the year 700, no certain mention of such tradition is to be found in the genuine writings of early writers nor in the early councils; the first certain mention we find is in the 9th century, in Notker, a monk of St. Gall (Martyrol., 25 July), Walafried Strabo (Poema de XII Apost.), and others.
Even the authenticity of the sacred relic of Compostela has been questioned and is still doubted. If, however, St. James the Greater did not preach the Christian religion in Spain, his body may have been brought to Compostela. According to another tradition, the relics of the Apostle are kept in the church of St-Saturnin in Toulouse (France), but it is quite possible that such sacred relics could have been divided between two churches. A strong argument in favour of the authenticity of the sacred relics of Compostela is the Bull of Leo XIII, “Omnipotens Deus,” of 1 November, 1884.
Adapted by A.J. Valentini