University of Oxford

File(s) not publicly available

E06922: Aldhelm, in his poem On the Altars of the Twelve Apostles, records the dedication of an altar to *James (the Apostle, son of Zebedee, S00108), presumably in Britain. Written in Latin in southern Britain, 670/710.

online resource
posted on 2018-10-17, 00:00 authored by bsavill
Aldhelm, Carmina Ecclesiastica, 4.4

Hic quoque lacobus cretus genitore vetusto
Dilubrum sancto defendit tegmine celsum;
Qui clamante pio ponti de margine Christo
Linquebat proprium panda cum puppe parentem.
Primitus Hispanas convertit dogmate gentes
Barbara divinis convertens agmina dictis,
Quae priscos dudum ritus et lurida fana
Daemonis horrendi decepta fraude colebant.
Plurima hic praesul patravit signa stupendus,
Quae nunc in cartis scribuntur rite quadratis.
Hunc trux Herodes, regni tetrarcha, tyrannus
Percussum machera crudeli morte necavit,
Sed pater excelsus, qui sanctos iure triumphat,
Vexit in aethereas meritis fulgentibus arces.

'iv. On St James
Here also St James, who was sired by an ageing father [i.e. Zebedee], defends the lofty church with its holy roof. When Christ was calling him from the shore of the sea, he left his own father behind in the curved boat [Mt. 4:21-2]. St James was the first to convert the Spanish peoples with his teaching, converting the barbaric multitudes with his holy words; deceived by falsehood, they formerly worshipped the ancient mysteries and ghastly shrines of the dreadful demon. Here the marvellous apostle performed a number of miracles, which are now duly recorded in books. The savage tyrant Herod (Agrippa), a tetrarch of the (eastern) empire, murdered St James, striking him (down) with a sword in cruel death. But the heavenly Father, Who justly makes his saints to triumph, transported him to the celestial citadels, his merits resplendent.'

Text: Ehwald 1919, 23. Translation: Lapidge and Rosier 1985, 52, title lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

James, the Apostle, son of Zebedee : S00108

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Poems


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Britain and Ireland

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

St Albans St Albans Verulamium

Major author/Major anonymous work


Cult activities - Places

Cult building - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts


The Carmina Ecclesiastica is an editor's title for a collection of five dedicatory poems for churches and altars (tituli) by the Anglo-Saxon scholar Aldhelm (ob. 709/10), who probably never intended them to be viewed together as a single group (Lapidge and Rosier, 1985, 35-45). Aldhelm appears to have been a son of Centwine, king of the Gewisse or West Saxons (south-west Britain) from 676 until 682/5, when he abdicated and retired to a monastery. We do not know when Aldhelm himself took religious vows, but he definitely attended, perhaps for many years, Archbishop Theodore and Abbot Hadrian’s school at Canterbury (from shortly after 670?), and possibly studied at the Irish foundation of Iona, off the coast of north-west Britain (perhaps in the 660s?). Around 682/6 he became abbot of the West Saxon monastery of Malmesbury, and in 689 probably accompanied King Cædwalla on his pilgrimage to Rome (see E05710 and E06661). In 705/6 he was appointed ‘bishop west of the wood’ in his home kingdom (later identifiable with the diocese of Sherborne). (For all aspects of Aldhelm’s career, see Lapidge, 2007.) Carmen Ecclesiasticum 4 is by far the longest poem of the group, and is divided into twelve parts, one for each of the twelve Apostles (with Paul as the replacement for Judas Iscariot); we have entered each of these parts separately into our database, as E06919-E06930. The poem survives through four continental European manuscripts.


Bugga's church in Carmen Ecclesiasticum 3, with its primary dedication to Mary, is described as having 'holy altars [which] gleam in twelve-fold dedication' (E06918), so it is possible that the twelve poems to the different Apostles of Carmen Ecclesiasticum 4 relate to twelve altars in this church. Even if they refer to different institutions, the two poems suggest that twelve-fold apostolic dedications of churches may not have been unusual in the early Anglo-Saxon church. Aldhelm's main source for Carmen Ecclesiasticum 4 is Isidore of Seville's On the Origin and Death of the Fathers, although in this passage on James, son of Zebedee, he arguably goes further than Isidore in specifically stating that he converted the Spanish peoples (rather than simply preached the gospel to them). Lapidge: 'it is possible that Aldhelm is the earliest securely datable source for this legend, which became one of the most widespread legends of the Middle Ages.' (See further Lapidge and Rosier, 1985, 41-44, 239-42.)


Edition: Ehwald, R., Aldhelmi opera (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores Antiquissimi 15; Berlin, 1919). Translation: Lapidge, M., and Rosier, J.L., Aldhelm, The Poetic Works (Cambridge, 1985). Further reading: Lapidge, M., "The Career of Aldhelm," Anglo-Saxon England 36 (2007), 15-69.

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



    Ref. manager