25 July is the feast day of the patron saint of our parish, Saint James the Greater. As such, I felt somewhat obliged to learn more about the man who inspired the founders of our church to name the parish in his honour.
James bar-Zebedee was a man of critical events. He was first to be called a disciple, along with his brother John. These two brothers, along with Peter, witnessed the Transfiguration of our Lord. He witnessed the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (I was unaware of Peter’s marriage) and the raising of the daughter of Jairus. Jesus summoned James to pray along with him in Gethsemane’s garden on the night of the great betrayal. Imagine witnessing one of these events?
I wonder if Jesus knew about the personality of James before he selected him as a disciple. Given that Jesus nicknamed James and John the “sons of thunder” my imagination is stirred with images of fiery, loud, impulsively passionate workers. James wanted a hostile Samaritan village ruined by heavenly fire invoked by Jesus.
The end of James was dramatically predicted by Jesus. When the bar-Zebedee boys asked Jesus for a special place of honour in the Kingdom, the response was that a place of suffering is that place of honour. James was beheaded in the 40’s of the Common Era by the grandson of the Herod who has been attributed with attempting to have Jesus the Infant killed. James was the first disciple to be martyred.
After the first Pentecost, James went to Spain and preached the gospel. And, apparently, this is the origin of the mythical elements of the veneration of St James. The body of James was carried back to Spain and interred at Santiago de Compostela. The story goes that a rider on horseback saw the ship carrying the saint and attempted to swim out to the ship. Rider and horse sunk in the attempt before miraculously rising covered in scallop shells.
Thus, the symbols attached to our patron saint are a scallop shell, a pilgrim hat, a sword, the sacred scripture. Artists often depict him on horseback. James is also the patron saint of Spain, equestrians, veterinarians, blacksmiths and tanners.
For myself, I prefer the literal James who is recorded in the New Testament; a man so passionate about his faith that Jesus includes him in the inner circle. The best thing that I can attribute to the mythical saint is a wonderful dish, Coquilles St. Jacques...shells of St. James. Here’s a thought: let’s honour our patron saint with a Coquilles St. Jacques feast...what a fundraiser! I can almost smell the garlic and gruyere now; baquette, white wine, a tantalizing green salad, some medieval pilgrimage songs, re-enacting the horse and rider story in the Avon River...sign me up!
The Web Scribe