Two apostles bore the name James. The St. James we are
discussing is called "the Greater" because with his brother
St. John and St. Peter he was a member of Our Lord's inner
circle. These three apostles were alone with Christ when He
raised Jairus' daughter from the dead and cured St. Peter's
mother-in-law. They were the only apostles to witness the
Lord's glorious Transfiguration and the only apostles to
watch with Him (until sleep overcame them) during His bitter
agony in the garden.
Sts. James and John were the sons of Zebedee. Father and sons
were fishermen who worked on the Sea of Galilee. Their home
village may have been Bethsaida, which was also the home of
that other team of brother-fishermen, Sts. Peter and Andrew.
The night Jesus was arrested, James fled like all the Twelve
Apostles. Although St. Peter found the courage to follow the
Lord at a distance to Caiaphas' house, and St. John appeared
the next day with the Blessed Mother to keep watch as Jesus
hung on the cross, James never came out of his hiding place.
He was with the other Apostles in the Upper Room when the
risen Christ appeared to them on that first Easter. A few
days after the Resurrection, James, John, Peter and several
other apostles encountered Jesus on the shore of the Sea of
Galilee where the Lord granted the fishermen a miraculous
catch, served them a meal of roasted fish and commanded
Peter, "Feed my lambs, feed my sheep." Finally, James
witnessed Christ's ascension into heaven and was present in
the Upper Room on Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended
upon the apostles and the Blessed Mother in tongues of flame.
Tradition says that after Pentecost St. James left Jerusalem
to preach the gospel in nearby Judea and Samaria. This seems
probable since the Acts of the Apostles mention Peter and
John preaching in Jerusalem, but not James.
Although St. James was not in Jerusalem, he was close enough
to fall into Herod Agrippa's grasp when the king began his
persecution of the Church. At Herod's command James was
beheaded. A legend records that as St. James was being led by
a rope around his neck to execution, he passed a man crippled
by arthritis or rheumatism who begged the apostle to cure
him. St. James stopped and said, "In the name of Jesus
Christ, for whom I am being led to execution, stand up and
bless your Creator." The man stood up, completely cured, and
gave thanks to God.
It is possible that at some early date Christians took the
relics of St. James to Spain. The great shrine of St. James
at Compostela was built over an ancient Christian cemetery in
which there was a martyrium, a small shrine to a martyr.
Unfortunately, archaeologists have not been able to determine
which martyr was buried there. For supporters of the
Compostela tradition, the issue was settled in 1884 when Pope
Leo XIII issued a papal bull that referred to relics of St.
James venerated in Compostela as authentic.
Authentic or not, the apostle's shrine at Compostela has
drawn crowds of pilgrims since the ninth century.
Craughwell is the author of numerous books about the saints,
including Saints Behaving Badly (Doubleday, 2006).