SAINT JAMES THE GREATER
from The Golden Legend1
This apostle James is called James the son of Zebedee, or James the brother of John, or Boanerges, which means the Son of Thunder, or James the Greater. He is the son of Zebedee not only in the flesh, but in the meaning of the name. Zebedee means giving or given, and the blessed James gave himself to Christ by his martyrdom, and was given to us by God as a spiritual patron. He is the brother of John not simply in the flesh, but also in the likeness of his character and virtues. Both had the same zeal, the same eagerness to learn, and the same desire. They had the same zeal to avenge Our Lord: for when the Samaritans did not receive Christ, James and John said: 'Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?' They had the same eagerness to learn: hence they were the first to question Christ about the day of judgement and other things to come. They had the same desire to gain profit for themselves, for they wished to sit one at the right hand and the other at the left of Christ. He is called the son of thunder because of the sonority of his preaching, which terrified the wicked, aroused the slothful, and won the admiration of all by its loudness. Whence Bede says of John: 'So loudly did he thunder, that if he had thundered but a little more loudly, the whole world would not have been able to contain him.' James is called the Greater, as the other James is called the Less, firstly, by reason of his calling, because he was called earlier by Christ; secondly, because of his intimacy with Christ, for Our Lord seems to have held this James in closer friendship than the other, admitting him to His secrets, as when lie was present at the raising of the daughter of Jairus and at the Transfiguration; thirdly, by reason of his passion, because he was the first of the apostles to be put to death. Thus as he is called Greater because he received the grace of the apostolate earlier, so he is called Greater because he was earlier summoned to the glory), of eternity.
James the Apostle, the son of Zebedee, after Our Lord's Ascension first preached in Judea and Samaria, then went to Spain to sow the word of God. But when he saw that his labours in Spain were unavailing, and that he had been able to garner only nine disciples there, tie left two disciples to preach, and returned to Judea with the other seven. John Beleth, however, says that he made only one conversion in Spain.
Upon his return to Judea, he again began to preach the word of God. Then the Pharisees asked a magician named Hermogenes to send his disciple Philetus to confront James, and to convict him of the falsity of his doctrine before the Jews. But on the contrary, James reasoned with Philetus and performed many miracles before his eyes, and in the end converted him, which all the people saw: and Philetus, when he returned to his master, praised James's doctrine, recounted his miracles, proclaimed that he would become his disciple, and urged Hermogenes to follow his example. Then the magician, angered at this, wrought his magical arts upon Philetus, and deprived him of the power to move; and he said: 'Now we shall see whether thy James can deliver thee!' But when Philetus sent his servant to make this known to James, the apostle sent him his kerchief, saying: 'Let him take this kerchief, and say: "The Lord lifts up them that fall, and looses the captives." ' And no sooner had Philetus touched the kerchief than he was freed from his magical bonds, hurled insults at Hermogenes, and hastened to rejoin the apostle. Enraged, Hermogenes ordered the demon to bring James and Philetus to him loaded with chains, that he might take his revenge upon him, and deter his disciples from similarly insulting him. But when the demons flew through the air and came to James, they began to howl and cry out: 'Apostle James, have pity on us, for behold we burn before our time!' And James said to them: 'To what end come ye here.?' And the demons responded: 'Hermogenes sent us to lay hold of thee and of Philetus; but all at once the angel of God bound us with fiery chains, and ceases not to torture us.' 'Let the angel of God release you,' said James, 'but only on condition that ye bind Hermogenes and bring him to me unharmed.' And the demons went and seized Hermogenes, and bound his hands behind his back, and brought him thus bound to James, saying to him: 'Thou hast sent us to be burned and grievously tormented!' And the demons said to James: 'Give us power over him, that we may avenge thine insults and our burnings!' And James said to them: 'Here is Philetus before you: why do you not lay hands on him?' And they answered: 'We cannot touch so much as an ant that is in thy chamber!' And James said to Philetus: 'Let us follow the example of Christ, Who taught that we should return good for evil. Hermogenes bound thee: 'do thou free him!' And when Hermogenes stood before him, freed of his chains and covered with confusion, James said to him: 'Go freely wherever thou wilt, for our law does not allow that one be converted unwillingly!' And Hermogenes replied: 'I know the vengeful spirit of the demons! They will kill me unless thou give me something that belongs to thee, as a safeguard.' Then James gave him his staff, and he went off, and brought his books of magic to the apostle to be burnt. But James, fearing lest the smoke of them do some harm to the unwary, commanded him to throw them into the sea. And when he had done this, he returned and threw himself at the apostle's feet, saying: 'Thou who dost set souls free, receive as a penitent him whom thou hast succored even when he envied and slandered thee!' And thenceforth he became perfect in the fear of God.
When the Jews saw that Hermogenes was converted, they came in anger to James, and inveighed against him for preaching Christ crucified. And the apostle proved the mission and the Passion of Christ so clearly to them, citing the sacred books, that many were converted. At this, Abiathar, who was the high priest of the year, incited the populace to riot, caused a rope to be thrown about the apostle's neck and dragged him before Herod Agrippa, who condemned him to be beheaded. And as he was being led to the place of torture, a paralytic who lay by the roadside besought him to make him whole. And James said to him: 'In the name of Jesus Christ, for Whom I am being led to die, be thou made whole, and arise, and bless thy Creator!' And at once the sick man arose and blessed the Lord. Then the scribe who was leading James by the rope around his neck, and whose name was Josias, fell at his feet, begged his forgiveness, and said that he wished to become a Christian. At this Abiathar ordered him to be struck in the face and held, and said to him: 'Curse the name of Christ, or thou thyself shalt be beheaded with James!' And the scribe answered: 'Cursed be thou and all thy days, and blessed be the name of Christ forever!' Then Abiathar obtained an order from Herod that Josias should be executed with James. And while they were making ready for the beheading, James petitioned the executioner for a vase of water, and baptized the scribe: and thereafter both had their heads cut off. This martyrdom took place March 25, the day of the Annunciation; but the Church has decreed that the feast of Saint James be celebrated on the twenty-fifth day of July, this being the day of the translation of his relics to Compostella.
John Beleth relates that after the apostle's death, his disciples, in fear of the Jews, placed his body in a boat at night, embarked with him, although the boat had neither rudder nor steersman, and set sail, trusting to the providence of God to determine the place of his burial. And the angels guided the boat to the shores of Galicia in Spain, where there was a queen whose name was Lupa, a name which means she-wolf, and which she well deserved by her life. The disciples laid the body of the apostle on a great stone, which immediately softened as if it were wax, and shaped itself into a sarcophagus fitted to his body. Then the disciples went to Queen Lupa and said to her: 'Our Lord Jesus Christ sends thee the body of His disciple, that thou mayest welcome in death him whom thou wouldst not welcome alive!' And they narrated to her the miracle whereby they had come thither without a rudder nor a steersman, and besought her to appoint a place for the burial of the saint. Then, as John Beleth relates, she guilefully sent them to the king of Spain, a most cruel man, with the pretext of seeking his permission for the saint's burial; and the king arrested them and threw them into prison. But in the night, when he had gone to rest, an angel opened the prison doors and set them free. As soon as he learned this, the king sent soldiers in pursuit of them; but just as these soldiers were crossing a bridge, the bridge collapsed and the soldiers were drowned. At this report, the king feared for himself and his people, and repented. He sent other men to search for James's disciples, and to say to them that if they would return, he would refuse them nothing that they asked. They therefore went back, and converted the whole city to the faith of Christ. Then they returned to Lupa, to make known to her the king's assent. The queen was sore distraught at these tidings, and answered: 'I have oxen in a mountain place. Take them and yoke them, and carry our master's body whither you will, and build him a comb!' All this she said in wolfish cunning, for she knew that the oxen were, really untamed and savage bulls, and thus she thought that they could not be yoked or harnessed, or if they were harnessed, they would run away, and destroy the car and throw the body to the ground, and kill the disciples. But no guile avails against God. The disciples, unaware of the queen's ruse, went up into the mountain, where first they encountered a dragon which belched fire; but they held a cross before him, and he was cloven asunder. Then they made the sign of the cross over the bulls, and they became meek as lambs, allowed themselves to be yoked, and although no man guided them, they drew the saint's body, with the stone in which it was laid, straight into the middle of the queen's palace. Seeing this, the queen was dismayed, believed in Christ, transformed her palace into a church of Saint James, and endowed it munificently. And she passed the rest of her life in doing good works.
Pope Callixtus relates that a certain Bernard, of the diocese of Modena, had been taken captive and was chained in the depths of a tower, where he prayed without ceasing to Saint James. And the saint appeared to him and said: 'Come, follow me into Galicia!' Then he broke the captive's chains and disappeared. Then Bernard hung the chains about his neck, mounted to the top of the tower, and jumped to the ground, sustaining not the slightest injury, although the tower was sixty cubits high.
Bede tells that a certain man had repeatedly committed a sin so heinous that his bishop was reluctant to absolve him. He therefore sent the man to the tomb of Saint James with a paper whereon his sin was written. On the feast of Saint James this paper was placed on the altar, and the man prayed fervently to the saint, that by his merits he might wipe out his sin. And when he unfolded the paper he saw that his sin was erased; and thanking God and Saint James, he published the event abroad.
Hubert of Besancon relates that in the year 1070 thirty men of Lorraine set out in pilgrimage to the tomb of Saint James; and all save one swore to aid each other. On the way, one of the travelers fell sick, and his companions waited fifteen days for him; but finally all left him except the one who had not sworn. And when evening came, the man died, at the foot of the mountain of Saint Michael. Then his companion was greatly frightened at the loneliness of the place, and the presence of the dead man, and the darkness of the night, and the savagery of the folk round about. But Saint James appeared to him arrayed as a knight, and consoled him, and said: 'Entrust the dead man to me, and mount on my horse behind me!' And before dawn broke they traversed fifteen stazes, and came to Mont Joie, half a league from Saint James of Compostella. The saint then ordered the pilgrim to call the canons together to bury the.dead man, and told him to say to his companions that since they had not kept their oath, they would gain nothing by their pilgrimage. And to his fellow pilgrims, who were astonished at the story of the journey, he told all that the saint had said.
Pope Callixtus relates that in the year 102o a certain German was on his way to the tomb of Saint James, having his son with him; and they stayed for the night in the city of Toulouse. The innkeeper got the father drunk, and hid a silver goblet in his sack. On the morrow, as the pilgrims were about to depart, the host accused them of stealing a goblet; and when the object was found in the sack, they were haled before the magistrate. He then gave sentence that they should give up all their goods to the innkeeper, and that one of them should be hanged. But as the father wished to die for his son and the son for his father, there was a long dispute; and in the end the son was hanged, and the father went grieving on his way to Saint James. And thirty-six days later he came back to Toulouse, and turned aside to the gibbet whereon his son hung; and there he broke out in loud lamentations. But his son began to comfort him, saying: 'Weep not, dear father, for no ill has befallen me! Saint James has borne me up, and sustained me with heavenly food!' Hearing these words the father ran into town, and the populace came and took down the son from the scaffold unharmed: and they hanged the innkeeper in his place.
According to Hugh of Saint Victor, a pilgrim on his way to the comb of Saint James met the Devil in the guise of the saint, and the Devil, after speaking much about the ills of this life, said that the pilgrim would please him if he killed himself in his honor. And straightway the man drew his sword and killed himself. And already the host in whose house the man had died was suspected of murder and threatened with death, when the dead man came to life and told that just as the demons were carrying him off to Hell, Saint James himself had appeared, led him to the throne of the Judge, and, confronting the accusing demons, had obtained that he should return to life.
Abbot Hugh of Cluny tells us that there was a certain young man of the region of Lyons, who had great devotion to Saint James, and used to go in pilgrimage each year to his tomb. But once as he was on his way, he fell into the sin of fornication. Thereupon the Devil appeared to him in the guise of Saint James, and said to, him: 'I am James the apostle, to whom thou camest each year in pilgrimage; the which pleased me much. But this time thy journey is of no avail, for thou comest toward me with a sin not confessed. Nor shall the sin be forgiven except thou emasculate thyself; and 'twere better for thee to kill thyself, and thus to suffer martyrdom in my honor!' The following night, whilst his companions slept, the youth dismembered himself, and then drove his knife into his belly. The next morning his companions were stricken with terror, and fled lest they be suspected of murder. But just as a grave was being dug for the dead man, he came to life, to the astonishment of all. And he related all that had befallen him, and said: 'When at the Devil's suggestion I killed myself, the demons seized me and were carrying me to Rome, when Saint James came running after us, and denounced the devils for their treachery. And as they disputed at length, at Saint James's urging we came to a meadow where the Blessed Virgin sat enthroned, and conversed with a goodly number of the saints. And when Saint James pleaded for me, she upbraided the demons severely, and commanded them to restore me to life. And Saint James took me and brought me back to life, as you see.' And after three days the young man went his way, bearing only his scars, and told his companions all in the order of its occurring.
Pope Callixtus relates that about the year 1100, a certain Frenchman set out for the tomb of Saint James, with his wife and his children, partly to escape the plague which was raging in France, and partly out of devotion to Saint James. And when lie reached the city of Pampeluna his wife died, and his host robbed him of all his possessions, even taking the beast upon which his children rode. He pursued his journey grieving, on foot, carrying some of his children on his shoulders, while he drew the others along by the hand. And he met a man who took compassion on him, and lent him his ass, that his children might ride thereon. And when he came to the tomb of Saint James, the saint appeared to him as he watched and prayed, and asked if he knew who he was. The man said that he knew not, and the saint said: 'I am James the, apostle, who lent thee mine ass on the road, and shall lend it thee again for the return journey. And be it known to thee that thine host shall fall from the roof of his house and be killed, and that thou shalt have back all that he took from thee.' And when all these things had taken place, the man returned to his home with joy, and when he had set the children down from the ass, the beast instantly vanished.
Hubert of Besancon tells us that three soldiers of Lyons went in Pilgrimage to Saint James. One of them met a poor woman on the way, who asked him co carry her sack; and for the love of Saint James he placed it upon his horse. Then he found a sick man fainting on the road, and he placed him upon his horse, and walked behind, carrying the sick man's staff and the woman's sack. But when he came to Galicia he was overcome with the heat of the sun and the fatigues of the journey, and fell gravely sick. Then his companions exhorted him concerning the salvation of his soul; but for three days he was mute, and answered them not a word. But on the fourth day, when his comrades were awaiting his death, he sighed deeply and said to them: 'Thanks be to God and Saint James, for by his merits I am set free I For when I wished to do as you exhorted me, the demons came and beset me so straitly that I could not answer. Then came Saint James, bearing the woman's sack as a shield in his left hand, and wielding the poor man's staff as a lance in his right, and he rushed upon the demons in anger, menaced them with the staff, and drove them off. And now go quickly and bring the priest to me, for I am not long for this life.' And turning to one of his companions he said: 'Fight for thy master no longer, for in sooth he is damned, and shall soon die an evil death.' And after the soldier's burial, his friend returned to his master and warned him- but the master heeded not the warning, and after a short time, being engaged in battle, was run through with a lance and perished.
According to Pope Callixtus, there was a man of Vezelay who was hurrying.to Saint James, and found himself without money, yet was ashamed to beg. He lay down beneath a tree, and dreamed that Saint James was providing him with food. And when he awoke, he found beside his head a loaf baked in the ashes, whereof he fed himself for a fortnight, until he returned to his own: for each day lie twice ate of it according to his need, and on the morrow found it whole in his sack.
Pope Callixtus also relates that about the year 1100 a certain citizen of Barcelona went in pilgrimage to Saint James, and besought him for one favor, namely that he should never be taken captive. Returning by way of Sicily, he was captured at sea by the Saracens, and sold as a slave; but the chains wherewith he was bound broke. Thirteen times he was sold and thirteen time his bonds parted: but the fourteenth time he was bound with double chains, and these did not break. Then he invoked Saint James, who appeared to him and said: 'All these woes have come upon thee because, standing in, my church, thou hast set the freedom of thy body before the salvation of thy soul. But because the Lord is merciful, He has sent me to deliver thee!' At once the chains were broken, and he made his way through the lands and towns of the Saracens, bearing a part of the chains as a proof of the miracle, and all who saw him were astonished; and thus he came back to his own land. And when anyone sought to hold him, the sight of the chains put him to flight; and when lions and other wild beasts were about to set upon him in the desert, they saw the chains and were stricken with terror, and turned at once to flee.
In the year 1238, on the vigil of the feast of Saint James, in the fortified town of Prato, between Florence and Pistoia, a certain simple-minded youth set fire to his guardian's crops, because the guardian was seeking to rob him of his birthright. He was taken prisoner, and confessed his deed. Then he was sentenced to be tied to a horse and dragged through the fire. But confessing his sin and vowing himself to Saint James, he was dragged over stony ground clad only in a shirt, and suffered no hurt therefrom, nor was his shirt torn. Then he was bound to a stake, wood was stacked about him on all sides and set alight, and wood and bonds were consumed by the fire; but be, never ceasing to call upon Saint James, remained unharmed, and his shirt likewise. And when they sought to throw him into the fire a second time, the populace snatched him away, and all praised God mightily in His apostle.
1. From: The Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine, trans. and adapted by Ryan, Granger and Helmut Ripperger. (Arno Press: Longmans, Green & Co) 1941. pp. 368-377.