Saint James, our Patron Saint
Only a few Christians get classified as a saint and the word literally means a 'holy' person. This means someone different or set apart. Patron saints are saints who were chosen as special protectors or guardians over things like occupations, illnesses, churches, countries, causes, in fact, anything that is important to us. The earliest records show that people and churches were named after apostles and martyrs as early as the fourth century.
The patron saint of our church and parish is Saint James who was son of Zebedee and Salome, brother of Saint John the Apostle, and may have been Jesus' cousin. He is actually called Saint James the Greater because he became an Apostle before a different Saint James, known as 'the Lesser'. It is not known why the founders of this church decided to make St. James its patron nor is it known who made the decision. Was it the vicar of St Mary's, Hampton, when that ancient parish church gave land for a church in Hampton Hill (then called New Hampton) to be carved out of its vast parish? Was it the then Bishop of London who consecrated the building?
James is depicted artistically in St James's Church in two ways - through a mosaic of him, seen above, and through a shell. The mosaic was given in 1913 in memory of Jane Barnard and the dedication reads 'For many years a most devoted and unselfish parish worker'. A mosaic was, at the time, an acceptable artistic depiction of a saint when a statue or icon probably would not have been.
James is seen holding a staff - perhaps a pilgrim's staff. He is allegedly buried at Santiago de Compostela in Spain. In the centuries following his death, James became associated with the evangelising of Spain and as a powerful defender of Christianity against the Moors. The heyday of the cult of Santiago de Compostela was from the 12th to the 15th century, and the pilgrimage to Compostela became one of the most important of medieval Christendom. He is also holding a book inscribed with a cross with a shell in the middle of it. The book is presumably the Gospel - the good news that James was sent out to proclaim. A shell is another symbol of a pilgrim. He is, though, wearing robes which are quite highly decorated. Perhaps they are meant to suggest the robes of a priest, but equally it may be artistic licence.
Saint James's Story
James was one of the three Apostles, along with Peter and John, privileged to witness three miraculous events: the healing of Peter's mother-in-law (Matthew 1:29-31); the raising of Jairus's daughter (Mark 5:37-43), and the Transfiguration of Jesus (Mark 9:2-8). Later the gospels record that James was also present in the Garden of Gethsemene on the night before Jesus's crucifixion. It was Peter, James and John who were unable to stay awake - "could you not watch with me for one hour?"
After Pentecost, James went on to preach the Gospel in Samaria and Judea. Many stories built up about the apostles and others in the earliest days of Christianity and by the seventh century the story of James having travelled to Spain to preach the gospel was widespread. It is said that Jesus's mother Mary appeared in a vision to James in Spain around 40 AD, standing on a pillar supported by angels. She summoned him back to Jerusalem where he played a big part in the very earliest days of the church there by becoming the first leader of the church in Jerusalem, possibly being the first prototype bishop. He was strong, influential and a man of integrity.
In order to please the whim of the Jewish opponents of Christianity, King Herod Agrippa I had James arrested. He refused to deny his faith and the Acts of the Apostles records that he was martyred by beheading around 43 AD, being the first of the Apostles to be martyred. He was buried in Jerusalem but it is claimed that his relics were transferred from Jerusalem to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, in 830 AD where they remain today. In the later middle ages his shrine at Santiago de Compostella was one of the greatest centres of pilgrimage, with thousands of pilgrims making both a physical and spiritual journey to honour this hugely popular saint. There are cockle shells on the beaches of Galacia in Northern Spain where his relics were brought on the way to Compostela and these were adopted as symbols of Saint James from Medieval times up until the present day. Pilgrims who travel the same way are given a cockle shell at the end of their journey.