Saint James of Jerusalem

From the Gospels of Mark (3:21), John (7:2-7), and Luke (21:16), the relationship between Jesus and His brothers was not perfect. They neither appeared to appreciate His enthusiasm nor His claims about Himself. But, the historian Eusebius claimed that it was in fact James whom Jesus chose to be His successor and head of the Church. Because the “Christian” Church was, at that time, in Jerusalem, this would have made James superior to even Peter.

It was said that James and Jesus could almost be mistaken for twins. “There are those who claim James was with the Apostles when Jesus was arrested, and Jesus and James looked so much alike that Judas had to kiss Jesus in order to differentiate between Him and His brother.”

The devotion and passion of James for Jesus has been documented by many historians in the church. St. Jerome wrote that James made a vow on Good Friday that he would not eat until he saw his brother Jesus. On Easter Day Jesus appeared to James and instructed him to set the table and prepare the bread. Jesus then took the bread and blessed it and gave it to His brother James saying, “Arise, my brother, and eat, because the Son of Man has risen.” Jerome also wrote that the holiness of James was so profound that many approached him simply to touch his garments that they may be healed. Eusebius, quoting the Christian historian Hegisippus, reflected that James, “drank no wine or strong drink, never ate meat, no razor ever came near his head, no oil anointed him, he never bathed. His clothing consisted of a linen garment (so he could avoid wool from animals). He knelt so often in prayer that his knees were callused like the soles of his feet.”

At the time of his martyrdom, Jewish authorities came to him demanding he publicly denounce Jesus. In response, James cried out, “Why do you question me about the Son of Man? Behold, he is seated in the heavens at the right of the sovereign Power, and he will come to judge the living and the dead!” At that, the Pharisees threw him to the ground and began throwing stones at him. Shockingly, he was still alive until an attacker picked up a club and split his skull. According to both St. Jerome and Origen, the Jewish people believed that the Temple at Jerusalem was destroyed in 70AD because of what was done to James.

After his death, it is said that eighty Pharisees protested to the Sanhedrin on his behalf and died with him. Some historians claim that James was buried in the very place he fell, while others say he was buried at the Mount of Olives. The Armenian Church claims that the remains of James were taken from the tomb at the Mount of Olives and interred in the Armenian Cathedral in the Old City of Jerusalem. However, none of these accounts of his repose can be verified.

The Way of Saint James or the Camino de Santiago was one of the most powerful and important Christian pilgrimages in the Middle Ages and into our current time. Another legend states that the remains of James were carried from Jerusalem to Spain where a Cathedral was built: Santiago de Compostela. Many routes traverse eastern Europe as pilgrims continue to make the journey in order to honor one of the precious and powerful followers of Jesus.

*information paraphrased from “Stars in a Dark World: Stories of the Saints and Holy Days of the Liturgy” by Fr. John-Julian, OJN

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