James was one of the 12 disciples, and was Jesus’ own cousin—his mother was sister or cousin to Mary. Legend says that he looked so much like Jesus that Mary herself could have confused them, and this is why Judas betrayed Jesus with an identifying kiss for the authorities. James is called “minor” or “lesser,” meaning younger, to distinguish him from the other James, who was also a disciple and played a more significant role in the Gospel stories.
This James was one of the first witnesses of the resurrection, and received a special appearance from Jesus before he ascended to heaven. He was bishop of the Church in Jerusalem, and was held in high esteem—he spoke for the people, for instance, in some of the important decisions of the early Church. St. Paul consulted with him before starting his missionary journeys and referred to him as a “pillar” of the Church.
He was known in Jerusalem as “The Just One” because of his constancy in prayer and for the devotion with which he practiced his faith. He did not eat meat, he refrained from any ostentation in clothing, he did not drink wine, and he did not cut his hair. He spent so much time in prayer that his knees grew thick calluses and looked like a camel’s.
The leaders in Jerusalem were worried about the growing number of people who were coming to believe that Jesus was the Christ. They asked James to refute this claim, but he refused and was stoned. He was finally killed when he was struck on the head with a club, and his body was cut to pieces with a saw. He is patron saint of pharmacists because they work with a pestle, which resembles a club.
He is frequently portrayed in art with the instruments of his death, a club or saw, or with a book, signifying his authority in the early Church. The relics of St James the Lesser rest in the reliquary chapel in the Basilica, and his image is used here with permission from Catholic.org. He is also portrayed with this symbol in stained glass that stands in the chapel in Morrissey Hall.