Today the church remembers two of the original twelve disciples: St. Philip and St. James the Less, Apostles, Martyrs, and Friend of the Obscure.
While there are disciples of Jesus with fewer speaking roles than Philip and James the Less (lookin’ at you Simone the Zealot and Mattias!), St. Philip and St. James the Less are pretty obscure, with James taking the lion’s share of that cloud of mystery. Nevertheless, like many characters in the scripture, these two deserve remembering because they “were in the room where it happened,” and went on to work in the world even after it happened.
St. Philip is more well-known, hailing from Bethsaida, that fishing village that birthed St. Peter and St. Andrew. He’s remembered for two main stories in the scriptures: his call story in John 1:43-51, and the Feeding of the Five Thousand (John 6:5-7). He’s mentioned a few more times, but most people will recall these two tales more readily.
St. Philip is said to have traveled to modern day Turkey after the Pentecost story, preaching and teaching with reported success. Lore says that he was married and had two daughters who accompanied him. His death came at the hands of the townspeople of Hierapolis in Phrygia (Turkey), where he was either stoned or crucified, depending on which literature you follow. He was buried there and his daughters, who remained unmarried, survived him and are also buried there.
In iconography you’ll often find St. Philip depicted with a “Tau Cross” (T-shaped), and/or with two loaves of bread, referencing both his death and the Feeding of the Five Thousand.
St. James the Less (a moniker that distinguished him from James the brother of John), is simply noted as one of the disciples of Jesus and his mother may have been one of the Mary’s present at the crucifixion. Apparently they were at a loss for names in the ancient world, hence why there are so many named Mary and James…but I digress.
Post-Pentecost we don’t really have any stories of note about James the Less other than that he was said to have been martyred using either a saw or a “fuller’s club,” a large club with spikes or knobs. One of these two images usually appear in his iconography.
St. Philip and St. James are commemorated by the Roman church on this day, May 3rd, though Lutherans and Anglicans usually commemorate him on May 1st (which is more traditional). But in 1955 Pope Pius XII declared that May 1st should be a day dedicated to remembering the working class, and so he put St. Joseph the Worker’s feast day on that day, and transposed these two obscure apostles to May 3rd.
Honestly, it’s six in one hand and half a dozen in the other, because half of the church honors them on May 1st and the other half on May 3rd. Decide which candle to light and do your thing, Beloved.
St. Philip and St. James the Less are a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that sometimes in life all you get to be remembered by is your name.
And sometimes that’s enough, by God.
-historical notes from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations
-it is worth noting that Pfatteicher encourages the church to adopt the older commemoration date of May 1st to honor these saints