Apostolic Identity. There are two St. James among the original twelve apostles: St. James the Greater whose feast is on July 25, and St. James the Less, the Lesser, or the Minor, whose feast is on May 3 and shared with St. Philip. He is the second James on the New Testament lists of apostles (Mt 10:3; Mk 3:18; Lk 6:15; Acts 1:13). There are several explanations for why he is called “less.” The most widely accepted reason is that he was younger than the other James who was greater in years. Some believe that it was because of his short stature, that he was lesser in height, or because he was called at a later time than James the Greater.
Family Relationship. St. James was the son of Alphaeus and Mary (Mt 27:56; Mk 15:40). His brother was Joseph or Joses. He is also known as the brother or cousin of the Lord. The people of Nazareth asked of Jesus, “[Are not] his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas?” (Mt 13:55; see Mt 12:46), or “James and Joses and Judas and Simon” (Mk 6:3).
Special Encounter. Jesus appeared to James after he rose from the dead (1 Cor 15:7).
Apostolic Ministry. James was the head of the early Christian church in Jerusalem and is regarded as its first bishop. When Peter was released from prison, he asked that word be sent to James (Acts 12:17). James presided over the Council of Jerusalem in 51 AD, and with great wisdom and compassion, argued that Gentile converts not be obligated to follow the Jewish dietary laws (Acts 15:13-21), and because of his fairness, he is also known as James the Just. Paul met with James in Jerusalem at least twice, once in 37 AD after he had spent fifteen days with Peter (Gal 1:18-19), and again in 56 AD when he conferred with James and the other presbyters (Acts 21:18). Paul called James a “pillar” of the community, along with Peter and John (Gal 2:9), and acknowledged that he had a role in commissioning Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles. The Letter of James is attributed to him (Jas 1:1).
A Martyr’s Death. James preached the gospel with exceptional zeal in Jerusalem for over thirty years, and he inspired many people to become believers in Jesus. His successes were met with fierce opposition by the leaders of the Jews who wanted to kill him. In 62 AD a group of furious scribes and Pharisees demanded that James renounce Jesus, and when he flatly refused, they apprehended him, stormed to the pinnacle of the Temple and hurled him down to an angry mob below. Still alive, the mob began to stone him, and as he prayed for their forgiveness, he was bludgeoned to death with clubs.
Symbols. In religious art, St. James is represented by a bat or a fuller’s club as well as one or more stones, the instruments of his martyrdom, or an image of the Temple because he was thrown from it. He is also sometimes depicted with a book or a scroll because he preached the gospel, with a pastoral staff or a walking stick because he was the shepherd of the church of Jerusalem, or a green branch or palm because he was a martyr. There is another not widely accepted tradition that he was cut in half, so he is sometimes represented by a saw.
Patronage. Along with St. Joseph, he is the patron saint of the dying. He is also the patron saint of fullers, those who clean, shrink, and thicken cloth; hatters; and druggists.