James the Deacon - our patron saint.
The feast day of our patron saint, James the Deacon, on 11th October is sandwiched between two other saints , Paulinus on 10th and Wilfred on 12th of October. James was associated with both of them and these three played quite a big part in bringing Christianity to the British Isles .
Paulinus was an Italian who was sent to England as a missionary by Pope Gregory. He arrived with a letter suggesting that an archbishopric should be established in York, for the Northern half of England. However, after arriving, he spent the first 25 years or so helping St Augustine in his work of converting the people of Kent and South East England to Christianity before venturing north with the daughter of King Aethelbert of Kent on her journey north to marry King Edwin of Northumbria. Just before leaving Kent, he was consecrated Bishop of Northumbria. Paulinus started the first stone-built church at York, near the place where the present day minster is situated.
Paulinus was a hard worker, and he baptised the people of the north, using many of the rivers of Yorkshire, Northumberland, and the borders, and building churches from Lincoln to the banks of the Forth and the Clyde rivers. He was assisted in this work by another Italian, almost 20 years younger, James the Deacon, who helped him, working tirelessly to bring the Gospel to the people. Soon after, Paulinus was consecrated as the first Archbishop of York.
Paulinus returned to the South after the death of Edwin and became Bishop of Rochester. James remained in the north and continued his missionary activity for a further thirty years.
James, as well as being Italian, was a trained singer. It was he that taught Gregorian chant to the monks, and was instrumental in forming the Minster Choir School.
His next involvement was with Wilfred, who was born in the same year that Paulinus hurriedly moved back to Kent. Wilfred became a monk at Lindisfarne and fairly quickly must have gained advancement as Abbot of Ripon.
Both he and James the Deacon, who was still working hard at his missionary work, and still in a supporting role as a deacon, became involved in what was known as the Synod of Whitby, held in the year 664. That was a one-off conference of the great church minds of the time, from both England, and Ireland, one of the main objects being to agree how to calculate the date of Easter. Wilfred had the job of persuading the synod to adopt the Roman calendar, which they did, and from then on, the date of Easter was fixed within England and Ireland, the two main centres of Christianity in the British Isles at that time. Wilfred went on to become Bishop of Northumbria
While Paulinus and Wilfred both became bishops, James remained a Deacon. He never sought higher office, but worked hard assisting Paulinus in his missionary activity. When the going became tough and dangerous, and Paulinus moved south to safety, James stuck it out in the North, continuing his missionary activity for a further 30 years until his death at the age of over 70 years of age.
By teaching Gregorian chant to those who followed their vocations in the many monasteries of Northern Britain, James helped to secure its place in our liturgy today.
Taking a significant part in the Synod of Whitby, James is credited with having passed on the information about what happened there to the Venerable Bede, who wrote it all up in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles.
Aren’t we lucky to be the only church to have such a man as our patron saint!