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Saint James the Great

Saint James the Great, son of Zebedee (ܥܩܘܒ ܒܪ ܙܒܕ , יַעֲקֹב‎, Ἰάκωβος ) was one of the twelve Apostles chosen by Christ and is the brother of Saint John.

Saint James is given the title of Great or Greater to help distinguish him from Saint James the Less his fellow Apostle. In this case, the title does not denote any high rank or importance but simply older or taller. Saint James was called to follow Christ with his brother Saint John in Matthew 4:21 and Mark 1:19 -

21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them,22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him

19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets.20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

Saint James had the honor of witnessing Christ alongside Saint Peter and Saint John during the Transfiguration. Both he and his brother Saint John were given the title Boenerges - "Sons of Thunder" in Mark 3. They both were known for their zeal and temper, for example when the two brothers showed their temperament against a man casting out devils in the name of Christ.

16 These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter),17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”),18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

It is also likely that Saint James was the older brother of the two as his name is listed almost always before that of his brother's name. Interestingly Saint James is never mentioned in the Gospel of John - according to this is likely due to Saint John maintaining bother a humble reserve regarding himself and members of his own family.

When their mother Salome came to Christ and asked that the two may sit alongside Christ in his kingdom, the two brothers joined in on the request not fully understanding the true nature of the Kingdom. They bother asked to drink the chalice He drinks of and Christ assured them both that they would share in his sufferings (See Mark 10:38-39) -

38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
39 “We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

From here the martyrdom of Saint James is split in half - one half concerning tradition and the other Sacred Scriptures. According to long standing tradition, Saint James travelled to Spain to spread the gospel. After some time of evangelizing, he returned to Jerusalem where Herod Agrippa I, grandson of King Herod the Great reigned. King Herod Agrippa sought to please his Jewish subjects in all ways possible and had become known for his persecution of the quickly growing Christian Church. In the Acts of the Apostles it is recorded that he was turned over to King Herod to be killed -

"He killed James, the brother of John, with the sword." - ACTS 12:1-2

Here again is the return to tradition as Eusebius (who writes that he received from Clement of Alexandria) records that the accuser who led Saint James to judgement was so moved by his confession that he joined in becoming Christian and was martyred alongside Saint James. The body of Saint James was miraculously translated to Iria Flavia in Spain and again to Compostela. The pilgrimage to Compostela grew in popularity during the Middle Ages and soon became one of the most famous Christian pilgrimages. The vow of making pilgrimage to Compostela to honor the sepulcher is reserved to the Pope. The remains are contained within the Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. The Name Santiago comes from the evolution of the Latin Genitive Sanci Iacobi (Church of Saint James).

Santiago de Compostela

The Armenian Apostolic Cathedral of Saint James in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem, specifically the Chapel of Saint James within it, marks the traditional location of Saint James's martyrdom at the hands of King Agrippa.

Armenian Church of Saint James

The feast day for Saint James the Greater is celebrated on July 25th in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and majority of protestant churches. The Orthodox calendar uses April 30th. When July 25th falls on a Sunday the year is considered a Holy Year (Ano Santo Jacobeo) and a unique east door is opened for entrance into the Cathedral. These years tend to follow a 6-5-6-11 pattern with the last years being 2004 and 2010. The next will be on July 25th, 2021.

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