Little Lives of the Great Saints – Saint James the Great, Apostle, Martyr, and Patron of Spain

detail of a stained glass window of Saint James the Greater; 19th century by F X Zettler, Munich, Germany; parish church of Saint Alban, Gutenzell-Hürbel, Biberach, Germany; photographed in January 2015 by Andreas Praefcke; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Died A.D. 43.

Saint James was the first of the apostles who had the sublime honor of dying for Jesus Christ and the Catholic faith. He was surnamed the Great to distinguish him from another Apostle of the same name, and was the brother of the “beloved disciple,” Saint John the Evangelist. Zebedee and Salome were his parents. On his mother’s side he was nearly related to our Blessed Lord, before whom he was born about twelve years. He was many years older than his brother John.

Saint James was born at Bethsaida, in Galilee, to which place Saint Peter also belonged. One day as Christ was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Peter and Andrew fishing. He invited them to follow Him, and promised to make them fishers of men. Passing on a little farther along the shore, He saw the two brothers James and John in a ship with their father Zebedee. He called them, and, at once, they left their nets and father to follow the Master of Life.

When our Lord formed the College of Apostles Saint James and his brother became members of that sacred institution. To these two Christ gave the title of Boanerges, or the Sons of Thunder. This, it seems, was to denote their active zeal. When a town of Samaria refused to entertain the Redeemer of mankind, they suggested that He should call down fire from heaven to consume it; but He gave them to understand that meekness and patience were the celestial arms by which they were to conquer the world.

Christ distinguished Saint Peter, Saint James, and Saint John among the other apostles by many special favors. They alone were spectators of his glorious transfiguration; and they alone beheld his agony and bloody sweat in the garden.

On one occasion, the mother of Saint James made a rather worldly request of Our Divine Redeemer. She wished him to grant that her two sons, James and John, might have the honor of sitting, one on His right and the other on his left in His kingdom She imagined that Christ was about to establish a powerful monarchy on earth.

“You know not what you ask,” replied Christ. Then, turning to James and John, He said: “Can you drink the chalice that I shall drink?”

“We can,” they answered with confidence.

“My chalice,” continued the Son of God, “indeed, you shall drink; but to sit on my right or left hand is not mine to give you, but for them to whom it is prepared by my Father.”

Thus they were promised suffering and a place in heaven according to their merits; nor was it long before the promise of Christ was fulfilled to both, though Saint James was the first to get his reward.

After the Ascension- of our Blessed Redeemer and the descent of the Holy Ghost, Saint James left Judea and preached the Faith in various countries. At length he arrived in Spain. Here he was the first to announce the Gospel; and hence he has always been venerated by the Spaniards as their patron saint.

During the Apostle’s stay in Spain, it is said he was favored with a remarkable vision. He was living in Saragossa. One night, after a long day’s preaching, he went out to refresh himself by praying near the river Ebro, on which the city stands. While at his devotions, he saw the Immaculate Virgin standing before him on a jasper pillar, and all around her were multitudes of angels, of enrapturing beauty, singing the sweetest hymns he had ever heard.

Saint James wondered how our Blessed Lady could be there, because he knew that she was still alive, and residing at Jerusalem with his brother, Saint John. Seeing, however, that it was really she, he saluted her with deep veneration.

She then addressed him, saying: “Build a church in this place in my name. I know that this part of Spain will be particularly devout to me, and from this moment I take it under my protection.”

These words were no sooner uttered than the Virgin Mother and her troop of beautiful angels disappeared.

Saint James lost no time in carrying out her gracious command. On the very spot where he beheld the vision, he erected a chapel, which he called Chapel of our Lady of the Pillar. A chapel of the same name is there to-day, and is held in great veneration by the whole Spanish people.

Eleven years after our Lord’s Ascension, Saint James again returned to Jerusalem The thunder of his eloquence touched many hearts, and conversions were numerous. The Jews, however, soon became enraged at his success, and plotted to kill him They had barbarously crucified the Divine One; but the disciple is not better than his Master.

Having failed on several occasions in their malignant designs on the life of the holy Apostle, his enemies now determined on a plan for his destruction. It was arranged to raise a sudden disturbance while he was preaching. Two Roman centurions were hired to have their soldiers in readiness to seize his person at a given signal.

One day while Saint James was in the midst of a discourse on the divinity of Jesus Christ, some of the listening multitude exhibited displeasure at his burning words. The sign was given. A Scribe, named Josias, rushed on the Saint, and threw a rope around his neck. The soldiers then seized him and led him prisoner to the king.

This was Agrippa, the grandson of that infamous Herod who beheaded Saint John the Baptist. In his desire to please the Jews, he began to persecute the followers of Christ; and without making any enquiry as to the truth of the charges brought against Saint James, the barbarous king at once ordered him to be executed.

His hour was come. The Apostle, no doubt, recalled Calvary, and, with joy, passed on his way to the block. No longer was he annoyed with ambitious thoughts about whether he would be honored with a place on the right or the left of his Divine Master. His only desire was to prove the depth of his faith and hope and love by giving up his life for the Son of God; his only wish was to glorify Him before heaven and earth.

As Saint James was moving along the sheet, a poor paralytic saw him, and cried out that he wished to be healed. The Saint granted his request. He was instantly cured. But this miracle led to one still greater.

Josias the Scribe was struck with the matchless peace and courage that marked the conduct of the great Apostle as he went to death; but the cure of the paralytic worked a wondrous change, and at the sight of the miracle he was suddenly converted. Then and there he repented of what he had done, and cried out that Jesus Christ was the true God.

His sincerity was soon put to the test. He was led with Saint James to execution, and begged pardon of the latter for having apprehended him The Apostle paused a moment, turned to him and embraced him, saying: “Peace be with you.” Having arrived at the block, he kissed him, and they were beheaded together. And thus passed to their heavenly home, in the year 43, the glorious “Son of Thunder” and the lowly, repentant Scribe, each, in his degree, to partake for ever of that mysterious joy which eye cannot see, nor ear hear, nor the mind of man comprehend.

MLA Citation

  • John O’Kane Murray, M.A., M.D. “Saint James the Great, Apostle, Martyr, and Patron of Spain”. Little Lives of the Great Saints, 1879. CatholicSaints.Info. 23 September 2018. Web. 14 November 2018. <>