The first four Apostles Jesus called were all fishing partners (Luke 5:10). To Peter and his brother Andrew “Jesus said ‘Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.’ Going a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and his brother John. They too were in their boat mending their nets. He called them; so they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.“ (Mark 1:16-20)

Three of these first four apostles were Jesus' closest friends: Peter, James and John were a privileged threesome who were blessed to be present at the Transfiguration, the raising of the daughter of Jairus, and the Agony in Gethsemane. (Matthew 17:1-27, 26:37, Mark 5:37). Because they were favoured, however, Jesus found reasons to purify and discipline them. For example, St. Mark tells how James and John came (Matthew says it was their mother) to ask that they have the seats of honour in the kingdom. When other disciples became indignant over such ambition, Jesus used the occasion to teach them all the lesson of the humble service. This Gospel passage (Matthew 20:20-28) is used on James' Feast day, July 25.

On another occasion (Luke 9:52-56), James and his younger brother John demonstrated why Jesus nicknamed them “the sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17). A Samaritan town would not welcome Jesus. “When his disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, would you not have us call down fire from heaven to destroy them?’ He turned toward them only to rebuke them.”

But the Lord's death and resurrection, along with the descent of the Holy Spirit transformed them. James was apparently the first of the apostles to be martyred. “During that period, King Herod started to harass some of the members of the Church. He beheaded James, the brother of John, and when he saw that this pleased certain of the Jews, he took Peter into custody also.” (Acts 12:1-3). Our James is not to be confused with two other men called James mentioned in the New Testament ; another apostle James “the Lesser” (meaning “the younger”) was the son of Alphaeus and Mary, not of Zebedee and his wife, and the leader of the Jerusalem community who was possibly a relative of Jesus. Nor is our James the author of the Letter of James. The name “James” is the English form of the Hebrew “Jacob”.

In the Middle Ages, it seems almost everyone in Europe made a pilgrimage to James's tomb in northwest Spain, so popular was our patron in those days. “These pilgrimage routes, the architectural forms developed along them, and the cultural customs connected with them were principal factors in the shaping of Western Europe. Pilgrims to his shrine wear scallop shells symbols that traditionally guarantee them the hospitality of any village through which they pass.” The shrine is known as Santiago de Compostela.
Music for St James the Greater: GUILLAUME DUFAY (c1400-1474). This is a glorious disc, superb performances of truly wonderful music. St James the Greater, Apostle of Christ, foster son of the Virgin Mary, brother of St John the Evangelist, and indelibly - if somewhat perplexing - associated with Santiago de Compostela, became the focus of many composers; after all, anyone who was anyone in the Middle Ages (including Chaucer's Wife of Bath) would make a pilgrimage to St James's shrine in Spain at some point in their life.

From St James Spanish Place abridged