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St. James of Nisibis


Name: St. James of Nisibis
Date: 11 July

This eminent Saint and glorious Doctor of the Syrian Church was a native of Nisibis, a city near the border of the Roman Empire and Persia. In his youth, entering the world, he trembled at thesight of its vices and the slippery downhill path of its pleasures. He thought it wise to adoptretirement, that he might gain strength and afterwards be better able to stand his ground in thefield. He therefore chose the highest and most inaccessible mountain for his dwelling place, witha cave for shelter in winter, while for the rest of the year he lived in the forest, continuallyexposed to the open air. Notwithstanding his desire to live unknown to men, he was discovered. He was highly favored with the gifts of prophecy and miracles, and many were not afraid to climbthe rugged rocks that they might recommend themselves to his prayers, and receive the comfortof his spiritual advice.

After a number of years he left his solitude to enter Persia, where he knew that there was avirtually infinite multitude of idolaters. There his prayers wrought miracles which changed theattitude of a considerable number. When he returned to Nisibis, he found the bishop’s palacevacant after the death of the prelate. The clergy and people unanimously chose Saint James toreplace him, overcoming his humility by their persistent persuasion.

One day, as the bishop was traveling, he was accosted by a gang of beggars intending to extort money from him under the pretext of having to bury one of their companions. The latter hadstretched out on the ground as though dead. The holy man gave them what they asked, and“offering up supplications to God as for a soul departed, he prayed that His Divine Majesty wouldpardon that man the sins he had committed while he lived, and admit him into the company of theSaints.” As soon as the Saint had passed on, the beggars called out to their companion to get upand receive his share of the booty. How amazed they were to find him genuinely dead! Seizedwith sudden fear and grief, they cried out in the utmost consternation and immediately ran afterthe man of God, casting themselves at his feet and confessing their fraud. They begged hisforgiveness and besought him by his prayers to restore their unhappy companion to life, and thisthe Saint did.

The most famous miracle of our Saint was that by which he protected his native city from thebarbarians. Sapor II, the haughty King of Persia, was besieging Nisibis with the whole strength ofhis empire while Saint James was its bishop. The prelate would not pray for the destruction ofanyone, but implored divine Mercy that the city might be delivered from the calamities of soterrible a siege. Then, going to the top of a high tower and turning his gaze towards the enemy,he looked down upon the prodigious multitude of men and beasts, covering the whole country. He prayed, “Lord, Thou art able by the weakest means to humble the pride of Thy enemies; defeatthese multitudes by an army of gnats.” God heard the humble prayer of His servant. He hadhardly finished speaking these words, when whole clouds of gnats and flies came pouring downupon the Persians, entering into the elephants’ trunks and the horses’ ears and nostrils. Theanimals chafed and foamed and threw their riders, and the entire army was cast into confusion anddisorder. A famine and pestilence followed and carried off a great number of the invaders. TheKing of Persia, after remaining more than three months before the walls, set fire to all his enginesof war and abandoned the siege; he retreated, having lost twenty thousand of his men.

When Sapor was again repulsed from outside the walls of Nisibis in 359, he turned his armsagainst the neighboring city of Amidus, seized that stronghold, and put the garrison and most ofthe inhabitants to death by the sword. The citizens of Nisibis attributed their preservation fromthis second attack to the intercession of their glorious patron, Saint James, although he hadalready gone to his reward. He died in the year 350.


Sources: Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints, and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894); Les Petits Bollandistes:


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