He is called
- James the Lessor or
- James the Less, or
- James the Just,
to distinguish him from James, son of Zebedee.
He was the author of the first Catholic Epistle, and the son of Alphaeus of Cleophas. His mother Mary was either a sister or a close relative of the Blessed Virgin, and for that reason (according to Jewish custom) was sometimes called the brother of the Lord.
It is believed he was born some years before our Lord. James (and his brother Jude) were called to the apostleship in the second year of Christ's preaching. We are told that Jesus, at his ascension, recommended his church of Jerusalem to James. The apostles, before their dispersion, constituted him (the first) Bishop of Jerusalem.
In Christian art he is often depicted holding a fuller's club - a sort of walking stick.
He appears only four times in the New Testament, each time in a list of the twelve apostles.
James was a Nazarite, or one consecrated to God. He never shaved or cut his hair, never drank any wine or other strong liquor. He never used any bath, or oil to anoint his limbs, and never ate of any living creature except when of precept, as the paschal lamb. He never wore sandals, never used any other clothes than one single linen garment. He prostrated so much in prayer that the skin of his knees and forehead was hardened like to camels' hoofs.
It is believed that in AD62 Ananus, the high-priest, son of the famous Annas mentioned in the gospels, assembled the Sanhedrin (or great council of the Jews), summoned James and others before it. James was accused of violating the laws and was subsequently stoned to death. This happened on the festival of the Pasch, the 10th of April. He was buried near the temple, in the place in which he was martyred, where a small column was erected.
His relics are said to have been brought to Constantinople about the year 572 (modern day Istanbul – see map).
His feast day is May 3