Saint James the Greater was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, a son of Zebedee. He and his older brother John were called by Jesus while fixing their nets at the Lake of Genesaret. They received from Christ the name “Boanerges,” meaning “sons of thunder,” for their impetuosity. The gospel relates that James was present for the miracle of Jairo’s daughter, the Transfiguration, and later with Jesus during His Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The Acts of the Apostles relates that the Apostles dispersed to different regions to take the Good News to the people of God. Sister Maria de Jesus de Agreda was a Franciscan religious who received revelations from Jesus. It was revealed to her that St. James the Greater went to Spain to evangelize. He went first to Galicia, where he established a Christian community and later to the Roman city of Cesar Augusto, today known as Zaragoza.
It is believed that on January 2nd, in the year 40 A.D., St. James and his disciples where resting on the shore side of the Egro river and started to hear sweet voices singing. They saw the sky fill up with light and many angels coming near them. The angels where carrying a throne on which the Queen of Heaven and earth was sitting. This was extraordinary, for Mary was living at that time in Jerusalem, making her appearance to them in Spain a bilocation. The Blessed Virgin told St. James to build a sanctuary where God would be honored and glorified, and gave him a pillar with her image to be placed in the sanctuary.
The Blessed Virgin also told St. James that the sanctuary would remain until the end of times and that she would bless all the prayers offered devoutly in this place. At the end of the apparition, Our Lady said to St. James that when the sanctuary was finished, he should return to Palestine where he would die.
St. James fulfilled the desires of the Blessed Virgin Mary and constructed the first Christian Church in the entire world. St. James returned to Palestine, where he was decapitated by order of Herod on the 25th of March during a persecution of the Church in Jerusalem. According to tradition, the accuser of St. James, who lead him to judgment, was so moved by St. James’ confession before death that he converted and was willingly beheaded with the Apostle. His disciples recovered his body and translated it to Galicia without anyone’s knowledge in a miraculous boat guided by God.
In the Old Testament Jacob constructed an altar for God naming it Bethel, which means “House of God” (Gen. 35:7). Jacob is a Greek name, and translated to Spanish, the name means James. Jacob constructed the “House of God,” and St. James parallels his namesake with the construction of the first “House of God” of the New Covenant.
St. James’s tomb was forgotten for over 800 years. Under the rule of Alfonso II (789-842), a hermit named Pelagio received a vision revealing the tomb of St. James. On July 25th, 812, the spot where the tomb was revealed to be was filled with a bright light. Because of this, it has since been known as Compostela, which means “Field of Light.” The bishop of Iria Flavia, Theodomir, after investigating, declared that these were truly the remains of St. James in the tomb. In 1884 Pope Leon XIII, in a Papal Bull, declared that the remains of St. James were at Compostela.
St. James the Greater is also known as “Matamoros,” Spanish for “killer of the Moors.” It is known that his intercession helped the people in various occasions against the threat of the Moors, especially in 1492 when Spain was re-conquered.
His Presence in the New World
1492 was also the year the Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas. Columbus and his conquistadors had a special devotion to the image of Mary that had appeared in the mountains of Spain that same year. Tradition tells us that St. Luke the evangelist made the image.
The advocation of the image was “A Virgin of Guadalupe,” named after the small river that passes through the mountain, meaning “A River of Light.” The conquerors, Colon and Cortes, visited the sanctuary of the Virgin of Guadalupe before departing on to the new land.
In 1519, Cortes arrived at Veracruz, today known as Lantigua, and constructed the first church dedicated to St. James the Apostle. Then in 1521 when Mexico was conquered from the Aztecs, Cortes constructed a Church in ruins due to the war with the Aztecs, which he dedicated to St. James. This is the Church to which St. Juan Diego was heading on December 9th, 1531 to receive religious education classes and participate in the Holy Mass for the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception.
St. James prepared the way for the Blessed Virgin Mary both in Spain and in the ‘new world.’ He is the apostle of the Blessed Virgin Mary that goes in front of Mary to prepare the way. He is also known also as the apostle of peace.
St. James and the Blessed Mother
In 1981, when Our Lady appeared in Medjugorie, with the advocation “Queen of Peace,” St. James already had made his presence known. A few years before the apparition, the Church constructed in the village of Medjugorie was dedicated to St. James the Apostle. St. James, being the apostle of peace, carries in his hands the keys to open the door that would bring peace to Medjugorie. We should pray to this apostle for his intercession. St. James prepared the way for the world to know the Virgin Mary as a “Pillar” of our Church, just like the pillar she had given him hundreds of years before.
St. James of Compostela
In the middles ages all roads lead to Compostela. The city is located in northern Spain, and it was one of the principle cities of Christianity, the other two being Jerusalem and Rome. Most likely, Compostela was the most known and visited.
All the European countries had their holy places, but Santiago was always full of pilgrims. Even the word pilgrimage was associated to Santiago. Many pilgrims would come walking to St. James tomb, which brought prosperity to the city. Because many people came from all throughout Europe, an exact route did not exist, but instead many different ones. There were four places designated in France as starting points towards Santiago de Compostela. In Spain these roads united to form two, the “Way of Aragones,” and the “Way of France.” Of the two roads, the “Way of France” was the most important historically and also today.
The road follows the old Roman road “Via Traina.” Today this same road is used by millions of pilgrims, even though many have different intentions than the Christians of mediaeval times who expected to see miracles and receive the absolution proclaimed by the Church.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We are continuing the series of portraits of the Apostles chosen directly by Jesus during his earthly life. We have spoken of St Peter and of his brother, Andrew. Today we meet the figure of James. The biblical lists of the Twelve mention two people with this name: James, son of Zebedee, and James, son of Alphaeus (cf. Mk 3: 17,18; Mt 10: 2-3), who are commonly distinguished with the nicknames “James the Greater” and “James the Lesser”. These titles are certainly not intended to measure their holiness, but simply to state the different importance they receive in the writings of the New Testament and, in particular, in the setting of Jesus’ earthly life. Today we will focus our attention on the first of these two figures with the same name.
The name “James” is the translation of Iakobos, the Graecised form of the name of the famous Patriarch, Jacob. The Apostle of this name was the brother of John and in the above-mentioned lists, comes second, immediately after Peter, as occurs in Mark (3: 17); or in the third place, after Peter and Andrew as in the Gospels of Matthew (10: 2) and Luke (6: 14), while in the Acts he comes after Peter and John (1: 13). This James belongs, together with Peter and John, to the group of the three privileged disciples whom Jesus admitted to important moments in his life.
Since it is very hot today, I want to be brief and to mention here only two of these occasions. James was able to take part, together with Peter and John, in Jesus’ Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and in the event of Jesus’ Transfiguration. Thus, it is a question of situations very different from each other: in one case, James, together with the other two Apostles, experiences the Lord’s glory and sees him talking to Moses and Elijah, he sees the divine splendour shining out in Jesus. On the other occasion, he finds himself face to face with suffering and humiliation, he sees with his own eyes how the Son of God humbles himself, making himself obedient unto death. The latter experience was certainly an opportunity for him to grow in faith, to adjust the unilateral, triumphalist interpretation of the former experience: he had to discern that the Messiah, whom the Jewish people were awaiting as a victor, was in fact not only surrounded by honour and glory, but also by suffering and weakness. Christ’s glory was fulfilled precisely on the Cross, in his sharing in our sufferings.
This growth in faith was brought to completion by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, so that James, when the moment of supreme witness came, would not draw back. Early in the first century, in the 40s, King Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great, as Luke tells us, “laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the Church. He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword” (Acts 12: 1-2). The brevity of the news, devoid of any narrative detail, reveals on the one hand how normal it was for Christians to witness to the Lord with their own lives, and on the other, that James had a position of relevance in the Church of Jerusalem, partly because of the role he played during Jesus’ earthly existence.
A later tradition, dating back at least to Isidore of Seville, speaks of a visit he made to Spain to evangelize that important region of the Roman Empire. According to another tradition, it was his body instead that had been taken to Spain, to the city of Santiago de Compostela. As we all know, that place became the object of great veneration and is still the destination of numerous pilgrimages, not only from Europe but from the whole world. This explains the iconographical representation of St James with the pilgrim’s staff and the scroll of the Gospel in hand, typical features of the travelling Apostle dedicated to the proclamation of the “Good News” and characteristics of the pilgrimage of Christian life.
Consequently, we can learn much from St James: promptness in accepting the Lord’s call even when he asks us to leave the “boat” of our human securities, enthusiasm in following him on the paths that he indicates to us over and above any deceptive presumption of our own, readiness to witness to him with courage, if necessary to the point of making the supreme sacrifice of life. Thus, James the Greater stands before us as an eloquent example of generous adherence to Christ. He, who initially had requested, through his mother, to be seated with his brother next to the Master in his Kingdom, was precisely the first to drink the chalice of the passion and to share martyrdom with the Apostles.
And, in the end, summarizing everything, we can say that the journey, not only exterior but above all interior, from the mount of the Transfiguration to the mount of the Agony, symbolizes the entire pilgrimage of Christian life, among the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God, as the Second Vatican Council says. In following Jesus, like St James, we know that even in difficulties we are on the right path.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our weekly catechesis on the Church’s apostolic ministry, we now consider the Apostle James. James — called the Greater, in order to distinguish him from James, the son of Alphaeus — was the brother of the Apostle John.
In the New Testament, James is often named with Peter and John as one of the three disciples privileged to be present at the most significant events in Jesus’ earthly ministry. These include the Lord’s transfiguration on Mount Tabor and his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Through these two events, which revealed Christ’s glory as the Son of God and the meaning of his redemptive sacrifice, James came to a deeper understanding of the Lord’s messianic mission. This growth in faith was crowned by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
The Acts of the Apostles presents James as an authoritative figure in the Church of Jerusalem and the first of the apostles to meet a martyr’s death. His example inspires us to be zealous disciples of Christ, prepared to drink from the cup of his suffering in order to reign with him in glory (cf. Mark 10:35-40).
I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today’s audience, including the delegates to the conference on plasma physics, and the delegates to the symposium on atherosclerosis. I extend particular greetings to the groups from Ireland, Ghana, China and the United States of America. May your stay in Rome renew your faith and your love for our Lord, and may God bless you all!
The way the Gospels treat the apostles is a good reminder of what holiness is all about. There is very little about their virtues as static possessions, entitling them to heavenly reward. Rather, the great emphasis is on the Kingdom, on God’s giving them the power to proclaim the Good News. As far as their personal lives are concerned, there is much about Jesus’ purifying them of narrowness, pettiness, fickleness.
St. James the Greater Prayer
O glorious Apostle,
St. James, who by reason of thy fervent and generous heart
wast chosen by Jesus to be a witness of His glory on Mount Tabor,
and of His agony in Gethsemane;
thou, whose very name is a symbol of warfare and victory:
obtain for us strength and consolation in the unending warfare of this life,
that, having constantly and generously followed Jesus,
we may be victors in the strife and deserve to receive the victor’s crown in heaven. Amen.
Patron Saint of:
Pilgrims, Laborers, Nicaragua, Rheumatism Sufferers, Chile and Spain