James, the brother of John, is often known as James the Greater, to distinguish him from the other Apostle of the same name, commemorated in the calendar with Philip, and also from James “the brother of our Lord.” He was the son of a prosperous Galilean fisherman, Zebedee, and with his brother John left his home and his trade in obedience to the call of Christ. With Peter and John, he seems to have belonged to an especially privileged group, whom Jesus chose to be witnesses of the Transfiguration, the raising of Jairus’ daughter, and the agony in the garden.
Apparently, James shared John’s hot-headed disposition, and Jesus nicknamed the brothers, “Boanerges” (Sons of Thunder). James’ expressed willingness to share the cup of Christ was realized in his being the first of the Apostles to die for him. As the Acts of the Apostles records, “About that time Herod the King laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the Church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword” (Acts 12:1–2).
According to an old tradition, the body of James was taken to Compostela, Spain, which has been a shrine for pilgrims for centuries. Among the Spaniards, James is one of the most popular saints. In the Middle Ages, under the title of Santiago de Compostela, his aid was especially invoked in battle against the Moors.