He was the brother of St John and, like him, a fisherman. He was one of the witnesses of the Transfiguration and one of those who slept through most of the Agony in the Garden. He was the first of the apostles to be martyred, being beheaded by King Herod Agrippa I to please the Jewish opponents of Christianity. He was buried in Jerusalem, and nothing more is known about him until the ninth century. At this time we learn of a tradition that the relics of St James were brought to Spain some time after his martyrdom, (perhaps early, perhaps as late as 830), and his shrine at Compostela in Galicia grew in importance until it became the greatest pilgrimage centre in western Europe. In every country there are churches of St James and known, well-trodden pilgrim routes. In Paris, the Tour St Jacques marks the start of the route and the Rue St Jacques points straight towards Compostela. In England, pilgrim routes lead from all parts of the country to the major ports that were used on the pilgrimage. This network of routes is a vital witness to the fact that the Middle Ages were not the static stay-at-home time that we often think them to be: everyone must have known someone, or known someone who knew someone, who had made the pilgrimage. The scallop-shell, the emblem of St James, has become the emblem of pilgrims generally. In 1987 the pilgrimage routes to Compostela were designated by the Council of Europe as historical cultural routes of international importance. The Confraternity of St James continues to work to restore and upgrade the refuges on a route which is still in active pilgrim use today.
Antiphon to the Canticle of Zechariah in Morning Prayer:
Jesus took Peter, James, and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain where they were alone; and in their presence he was transfigured.
Prayer from Morning Prayer for the Feast of Saint James, Apostle:
you accepted the sacrifice of Saint James,
the first of your apostles to give his life for your sake.
May your Church find strength in his martyrdom
and support in his constant prayer.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Editor’s note: Saint James holds a particularly special place for me as the patron of my family name. If you have time today I ask that you incorporate the intercession of Saint James for my family as you mark this special day in prayer. Thank you and God bless!