James (Saint James in Catholic and Orthodox traditions) was one of the most prominent Apostles of Jesus. This Apostle is known as "James the Greater" because there was another Apostle of Jesus also known as James ("James the Lesser").
James was a son of Zebedee and the brother of another Apostle, John. Both were given the nickname "sons of thunder." They apparently came from a family that ran a successful fishing business, as demonstrated by a reference in Mark to how the business had hired servants. "And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him." Mark 1:20. Peter and Andrew were also partners in the same fishing business, suggesting that all four (James, John, Peter and Andrew) enjoyed some success. Peter, James and John were the Apostles closest to Jesus during His ministry.
It is possible that James was a first cousin of Jesus and knew Him when they were children. James' mother was Salome, who could have been the sister of Jesus' mother, Mary.
James was present when Jesus resurrected Jairus' daughter, when Jesus underwent His transfiguration, and when Jesus went through His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. James (and his brother John) made the mistake of seeking authority over others, which earned him a rebuke from Jesus.
James was older than John, and James was the first Apostle to be martyred. The beheading of James by King Herod Agrippa I in Rome is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles of the New Testament (Acts 12:2), and occurred between A.D. 41 and 44, only about ten years after Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection.
The prominence of James' father, the success of their fishing business, the connection of James' brother John with the high priest (John 18:15), and the martyrdom of James by beheading rather than crucifixion might cause one to ask whether James could have even been a Roman citizen, as Paul was. Roman citizens could not be crucified as Jesus and many Apostles were. But James did not appeal his sentence to Caesar in Rome, which he could have done if he were a Roman citizen as Paul was, and there is no suggestion in the New Testament that any of Jesus's Apostles were citizens of Rome.
One tradition holds that James preached the Gospel in Spain before returning to Judea when he was put to death by order of Herod. His body was then translated to Iria Flavia (northwest Spain) and then to Compostela. There are difficulties with the plausibility of this early missionary journey, but even if James did not preach the Gospel in Spain, his body may have been brought to Compostela nonetheless. The town, especially during the Middle Ages, was one of the most important and popular pilgrimage sites. To this day, James is Spain's patron saint, and there are many towns in Spain and Latin America called Santiago in his honor. In the twelfth century the Order of Knights of St. James of Compostela were founded, invoking James as their protector in battle against Muslims; at this time he was often called Santiago Matamoros ('St James the Moor Killer').
Feastday: July 25