Today the church remembers one of the first called to follow Jesus: St. James the Great, Son of Thunder and Martyr.
Saint James the Great (he was called that because he was older than his brother John) was born in Galilee and worked as a fisherman. Jesus nicknamed James and his brother John as “Boanerges” or “Sons of Thunder,” probably as a nod to their quick tempers and flashpoint spirits.
Saint James was reportedly in the inner circle that Jesus had, C-suite if you will (though I bet Mary Magdalene was also in there, just conveniently left off the record). He witnessed Jesus raising people from the dead, curing the sick, and being transfigured on the mountain.
He also fell asleep at the Garden of Gethsemane while Jesus was praying and fled when the soldiers came.
Saint James played an active part in the early church post-resurrection, and has the sad distinction of being the only Apostle to have his martyrdom recorded in the Biblical Canon (Acts 12:2) as he was beheaded by Herod Agrippa I in the year 43 (or maybe 44).
Though most all strains of Christianity honor Saint James the Great, no one can agree on a date. The Orthodox Churches give him a nod on April 30th, and the Coptic Churches venerate him on April 12th. The Western Church decided on July 25th probably because his relics were officially buried on this day in 816 AD at the Church of Saintiago de Compostella.
Saint James the Great is a patron saint of travelers, and you can walk his famous “pilgrim way,” the Camino de Santiago. A winding trail of pilgrim roads through Spain, Portugal, and France, the Camino ends with the relics of this beloved and revered Apostle, but best to warm up the hiking boots before you tackle it…it’s not easy.
Saint James the Great is often symbolized by a shell, a nod to his fishing background. Legend has it that eating an oyster on this day will keep you from being poor (though it’s not really oyster season, so be careful!).
Saint James the Great is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that sometimes we get remembered for things that really don’t have much to do with us, and that’s ok. There is no good reason for Saint James the Great to be the patron saint of pilgrimages, and yet, here we are remembering him for it.
I mean, I guess in many ways it’s totally fine, right? He was a pilgrim in this weary world, like all of us, making his way.
-historical bits from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations
-icon is “The Daisy Hill Saint James the Greater, ” written by Glenys Latham specifically for The Church of Saint James Daisy Hill in Bolton, United Kingdom