July 25 is the traditional feast day of Saint James the Apostle. James, whose Hebrew name sounded more like Ya-kob, was a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee and was one of the first disciples to be called, along with his brother John and two other fishermen-brothers, Peter and Andrew. James was prominent among the disciples and active in preaching after Jesus’ death and resurrection. He was killed by King Herod Agrippa around the year 44 (Acts of the Apostles 12:2). He is probably not the author of the Epistle of James in the New Testament, there was another disciple also named James who is a better candidate for that. Jesus called James and his brother John “Boanerges,” a Greek word meaning “sons of thunder,” which may reflect a hot temper.
After James’ death, many legends sprang up about him. It was said that he had traveled as far as Spain to found the Christian church there and that his body or other relics had been taken to Spain and were to be found in the Church of Saint James in Compostela (in Galicia, northwestern Spain). The Latin word for “church of James” was “Sancti Iacobi.” This evolved over time into the Spanish “Santiago.” Santiago remains a common Spanish name. Santiago de Compostela was one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations in the Middle Ages and has recently become popular again because of books and movies, including the 2010 movie The Way, starring Martin Sheen. Saint James is considered the patron saint of Spain. His emblem was a scallop or cockle shell and his popularity throughout Europe is reflected in the words for scallops (e.g., French coquille St. Jacques, German Jakobsmuschel) and in the continuing popularity of the names James, Jacob, Jacqueline, Jaime, and Diego.
Over its long history, Christianity has given rise to various legends. These do not take away from the reliability of the New Testament accounts. It was because James was a prominent disciple and apostle that later Christians went to the trouble of remembering him, building churches in his name, and making legends about him. On July 25, it is good to remember that James, the brother of John, was called from his business of fishing by a remarkable rabbi who promised to make him a “fisher of men.” James followed Jesus, heard his teachings, saw his miracles including his radiant appearance on the mountain of the Transfiguration, stayed with him during his final agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, ran away when Jesus was arrested and crucified, but joyfully hailed his resurrection when Jesus appeared alive again after his death. James devoted the remainder of his life to spreading the good news of Jesus, even though it cost him his life.