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E06925: Aldhelm, in his poem On the Altars of the Twelve Apostles, records the dedication of an altar to *James (the 'brother of the Lord,' S00058), presumably in Britain. Written in Latin in southern Britain, c. 670/710.

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posted on 2018-10-17, 00:00 authored by bsavill
Aldhelm, Carmina Ecclesiastica, 4.7

Nec non Iacobus Christi matertera cretus
Et consobrini felici nomine fretus
Hanc aedem Domini de summo servat Olimpo;
Quem plebs Iudaea scaevo bachante tumultu
Pulsum de pinna fullonis sude necavit,
Quod Christum populis scandens fastigia templi
Concionaretur crebro sermone sacerdos.
In cuius genibus cutis callosa refertur,
Dum crebris vicibus oraret voce Tonantem
Poplitibus flexis tundens pavimenta sacelli.
Lanea villosi sprevit velamina pepli
Linea brumosis sumens mantilia flabris;
Sic quoque flagrantem contempnens corpore nardum
Thermarum penitus neglexit pectore pompas;
Non cirros capitis ferrata forfice dempsit
Nec culter malas vestis lanugine rasit.

Cuius virtutum tanta praeconia constant,
Ut vindicta necis, quam dira morte luebat,
Interitus fieret Solimae populique ruina,
Dum Titus Caesar densa comitante caterva
Cum genitore simul Romanis arcibus orto
Urbem ferriferis vallarent milibus amplam,
Donec dira fames consumpsit strage caterva
Moenibus obstructas et muri carcere saeptas.
Tempore quo tenerum mactavit femina natum,
Insuper assandum veribus transfixit acutis;
Quem coctum laribus crudelis mater edebat
Humanae penitus naturae iura resolvens:
Horresco referens effebi funus acerbum.
Sic vindicta crucis multavit clade nefandos,
Sic quoque Iacobi multavit passio sontes!
Undecies centena simul cecidisse leguntur
Milia per miseram moribundis civibus urbem;
Insuper et centum venduntur milia passim,
Quos rigidus ferri neglectos mucro reliquit
Et famis exigua fugerunt funera stipe.

'vii. On St James the Apostle
So too St James, who was born the son of Christ's aunt and who enjoyed the happy distinction of being Christ's cousin, protects from the highest heaven this house of God. The Jews, raging in insane fury, pushed him from the battlements of the church and he was killed by a laundryman's club – all because, after climbing to the roof of the temple, the priest [i.e. James] (had) preached Christ to the people with insistent words. He is said to have had callous skin on his knees because on so many occasions he used to pray aloud to God, pounding the pavement of the church with his bended knees. He scorned the woollen covering of a shaggy cloak, adopting a linen mantel (to face the) wintry blasts. Similarly, he scorned the perfumed oil for his body, and completely avoided the splendour of the public baths for his soul's sake. He did not cut off the locks of his hair with steel scissors, nor did any knife shave the down of his beard from his cheeks.

The reputation of his powers was so great that as punishment for his murder – which he underwent through a cruel death – the destruction of Jerusalem and the fall of the Jews took place, when Titus Caesar, together with his father (Vespasian) who was born in a Roman citadel – accompanied by a massive army, deployed his armed soldiers to lay siege to the great city, until at length a terrible famine wasted with death and destruction the crowds contained by the ramparts and enclosed within the prison of the city walls. It was at this time that a woman butchered her young child; what is more, she transfixed him with sharp spits in order to be roasted; when he was cooked by the flames, the cruel mother ate him, destroying utterly the bonds of human nature: I recoil in horror from describing the boy's violent death. Thus did the vengeance of the Cross punish the impious with destruction; so too did the martyrdom of St James punish the guilty! Eleven times 100,000 are said to have died at that time in the wretched city [i.e. Jerusalem] with its doomed inhabitants; moreover, another 100,000 were sold into slavery everywhere – those whom the rigid blade of the steel sword spared and who (only) escaped by death from starvation on miserable rations.'

Text: Ehwald 1919, 25-7. Translation: Lapidge and Rosier 1985, 54-5, title lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

James, 'brother of the Lord', also known as James the Just : S00058

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

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Jews Relatives of the saint Women Children


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. For this account of James 'the Just' he also appears to have made use of (Rufinus' translation of) Eusebius' account in his Ecclesiastical History (E00173). (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.

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