Follow in the Footsteps of an Apostle

In Sacred Scripture, the Twelve Apostles were chosen by the Lord to accompany Him in His public ministry and to continue it after His Ascension. They saw countless miracles and sat at the feet of Our Lord, listening to His parables and instruction. Among these twelve was St. James the Greater.

We pray that these prayers and novenas will bring you closer to the Lord – and that Saint James will help you along the way.

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When do we celebrate St. James' feast?

While the usual practice is to celebrate a saint’s birth into glory (the day of death), believed to be March 25th, the Church celebrates the feast of St. James the Greater on July 25th. During the Middle Ages Santiago de Compostela in Galicia (NW Spain) had become a pilgrimage site for all of Europe, as it was here that the relics of the Apostle are kept, and it was on July 25th that they were brought out for veneration. By the 10th century, this date was the one adopted in Rome, as well. 

What was Saint James the Greater known for?

St. James  was a fisherman who, with his brother John, worked in their father Zebedee’s business. Together they were among the first disciples of Jesus (Mt. 4:21-22). This James is distinguished from the Apostle James the Lesser, or Less, either due to his taller stature or his greater age. James the Greater is also one of the three Apostles who with Peter and John were invited by the Lord to come apart with Him on at least three occasions––the raising from the dead of Jairus’ daughter (Mk. 5:33ff; Lk. 8:49ff), the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor (Mt. 17:1; Mk. 9:2ff; Luke 9:28ff) and in the Garden of Gethsemane after the Last Supper (Mt. 26:33ff; Mk. 14:32ff).  

What do we know about the early life of St. James?

While we know little information regarding the early life of St. James, he was the brother of John, the beloved disciple, and probably the elder of the two. His parents seem to have been people of means as appears from the following facts. Zebedee was a fisherman of the Sea of Galilee, who probably lived in or near Bethsaida (John 1:44), perhaps in Capharnaum, which was on the lake; and had some boatmen or hired men as his usual attendants (Mark, 1, 20). 

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“And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.” ― Matthew 4:21–22

What is the meaning of the name James?

James is the Greek form of the name of the Patriarch Jacob, in Hebrew Ya’aqob, and in Latin Iacob or Iacobus. In Spanish the saint’s name has been rendered as Santiago, a name given to the Shrine in Galicia possessing his relics, and a given name for boys.

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What was the nickname given to Saints James and John?

They were called "sons of thunder" (Mark 3:17), whether due to their temperament, the vehemence of their preaching, or both, is not clear.  

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What does the name Zebedee mean?

The name Zebedee, the father of St. James and St. John, is translated as “gift of God.” 

What was one of the unique experiences James had with Jesus?

Saint James the Greater was a witness to Jesus’ Transfiguration. Jesus had His three closest apostles — Peter, James, and John — with him on a mountaintop when his body became luminous. He was joined by Moses and Elijah, who appeared with Him in glory. 

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What miracles did James witness or perform?

According to Sacred Scripture, Saint James witnessed the cure of Peter's mother-in-law and the raising of Jarius’s daughter from the dead, among other miracles. Many stories and legends attribute to James great miracles, as well, including raising the dead―a miracle not unknown in the lives of the saints, as Jesus himself promised (John 14:12). 

“And he went up into the hills, and called to him those whom he desired; and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.” – Mark 3:13-15

In what country did James preach the Gospel and Christianity?

Among the places other than Judea that we know, St. James evangelized what would become Portugal and Spain. Discouraged by his initial lack of success, the Apostle was ready to abandon the mission when the Mother of the Lord appeared to him near what would become Zaragoza, and encouraged him to continue. The people of the peninsula would indeed convert and themselves evangelize the Western Hemisphere. 

This event occurred in 40 A.D., when our Our Lady was still living, and is commemorated as the appearance of Our Lady of Pilar, referring to a jaspar pillar on the site.  Often called the first Marian apparition, it is more accurately an example of the mystical phenomenon of bilocation. 

What led to the death of James?

St. James the Greater, having preached Christianity in Spain, returned to Judea and began again to preach and proclaim the Gospel to the Jews. Eventually he was arrested and put to death by order of King Herod, about the year 44 A.D. His body was miraculously translated to Iria Flavia in the northwest of Spain, and later to Compostela, and ultimately placed in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Here his relics became the object of pilgrimage and veneration from all over Europe during the Middle Ages, and the objective of the pilgrims Way of St. James.

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“Consequently, we can learn much from St James: promptness in accepting the Lord's call even when he asks us to leave the ‘boat’ of our human securities, enthusiasm in following him on the paths that he indicates to us over and above any deceptive presumption of our own, readiness to witness to him with courage, if necessary to the point of making the supreme sacrifice of life.” – Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience (21 June 2006), On St. James

How is the Feast Day of St. James celebrated in Santiago de Compostela?

Pilgrims celebrate the feast day of St. James, also known as the “Festas do Apóstolo,” beginning on the eve of the feast with outdoor concerts and fireworks. The day itself centers around the Mass of his feast. This is the occasion of the swinging of the Cathedral’s Botafumeiro, a giant thurible filled with burning incense, which swings precariously in great arcs from the Cathedral’s ceiling across the sanctuary. Throughout the day pilgrims venerate his relics, asking the Apostle to bless them and to pray for their needs. 

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Why do pilgrims walk the Way of St. James?

Many pilgrims, from all walks of life, from all regions of the world, and even other faiths, or no faith, participate in the Camino, or Way, of St. James. They do so for both religious and non-religious reasons. Even if they have no particular purpose for hiking the Camino, there is a sense of prayer and gratitude associated with the pilgrimage. 

Where does the Camino or Way of St. James begin?

In one sense it begins all over Europe.  Historically they have come along well-trod pilgrim paths beginning in Britain, the Benelux, Poland, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy, as well as Portugal and the south of Spain. But the Camino itself really only begins where they enter the north of Spain, traveling across the north on routes marked by Camino signs from the Pyrenees to Galicia and the Shrine in Compostela. 

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What can we learn from St. James?

Pope Benedict XVI said, 

[W]e can learn much from St James: promptness in accepting the Lord’s call even when he asks us to leave the “boat” of our human securities, enthusiasm in following him on the paths that he indicates to us over and above any deceptive presumption of our own, readiness to witness to him with courage, if necessary to the point of making the supreme sacrifice of life.

Thus James the Greater stands before us as an eloquent example of generous adherence to Christ. He, who initially had requested, through his mother, to be seated with his brother next to the Master in his Kingdom, was precisely the first to drink the chalice of the passion and to share martyrdom with the Apostles.

And, in the end, summarizing everything, we can say that the journey, not only exterior but above all interior, from the mount of the Transfiguration to the mount of the Agony, symbolizes the entire pilgrimage of Christian life, among the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God, as the Second Vatican Council says. In following Jesus, like St. James, we know that even in difficulties we are on the right path.

What is Saint James the patron of?

St. James is the patron saint of Spain, Galicia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Seattle (whose cathedral is named for him), veterinarians, and pharmacists.