St. James of the Marches
On the picturesque hill town of Monteprandone, in the lower area of the Marches region, overlooking the Adriatic Sea, are the incorrupt remains of St. James of the March (1393-1476).
Childhood and Conversion
This little-known Franciscan saint was born to a poor family and baptized with the name Domenico. As a boy, he tended to sheep as a shepherd. His father was abusive forcing Domenico to leave home early. He was taken in by an uncle who was a priest and arranged for his education.
Domenico graduated with a law degree in 1412 and worked for a few years in Tuscany tutoring the children of a noble family. Later he worked as a judge and then a notary in Florence.
While traveling through Assisi, Domenico went into the church of St. Mary of the Angels to pray. Inspired by the friars and how they followed the example St. Francis, he decided to enter the Franciscan Order. In 1416, at the age of 23, he took the religious name, James, after St. James the Greater, Apostle.
James was ordained a priest six years later. His superiors soon discovered his numerous spiritual gifts and talents. In time, he became known throughout all of Italy as a great preacher, penitent, peacemaker, builder, healer, and saint.
He was also known for his severe penance. He ate little, slept little, and wore a rough hair shirt or an iron coat of mail directly on his skin beneath his habit. Toward the end of James’s life, Pope Sixtus IV forbade him to fast, saying that his good health was “in the public interest.”
James took the vow of poverty very seriously. While traveling, he walked everywhere he went and pulled all his possessions behind him on a small wagon: a Bible, a breviary, some books and theological works, vestments, and vessels for Mas. He always wore a threadbare habit.
He worked tirelessly to build up the Kingdom of God. St. James authored eighteen books and theological treatises. He helped codify various civil statutes in towns and cities for the good of the people. James was known as a peacemaker and he negotiated peace and reconciled numerous factions: rival families, feuding towns, Guelphs and Ghibellines. Finally, James was also an inquisitor appointed to investigate the Franciscan schismatic group, the Fraticelli, as well as the Hussites.
James was also known as an extraordinary builder. He designed basilicas, friaries, convents, libraries, cisterns, and wells. St. James also conceived of a lending institution called Montes Pietatis — a type of nonprofit credit agency that lent money at little to no interest.
He was called on by the pope himself to serve as papal nuncio to the Holy See, and traveled throughout Europe, no small feat, given the difficulty of traveling and the fact that he traveled on foot.
Together with St. Bernardine of Siena, James countered the widespread superstitions of amulets and charms by promoting the Name of Jesus. They wrote the letters, IHS (Iesus Hominum Salvator, Jesus, the Savior of Humanity) on parchments which they touched to the bodies of the sick and infirmed.
The pope sought to ordain James as archbishop of Milan, one of the most important dioceses of the day. Out of humility, however, he refused, preferring instead the life of a simple friar and priest.
Death and Canonization
On November 28, 1476, he died in Naples. He had been sent by the pope to aid the ailing king. His funeral was attended by the pope, the King of Naples, the royal court, and countless clergy and laypersons.
Pope Urban VIII beatified James on August 12, 1624. He was canonized on December 10, 1726 by Pope Benedict XIII.
The body of St. James’s body remained in the Franciscan church of Santa Maria Nova in Naples for more than five centuries. In 2001, Fr. Ferdinando Campana, OFM, the Franciscan Provincial Minister of the Marches, successfully initiated the transfer of St. James’s body to his birthplace of Monteprandone.
St. James of the March is patron saint of the Franciscan friars of the Marches region, the city of Monteprandone, one of the (numerous) patrons of Naples, and of children. His feast day is celebrated on Nov. 28.
In the church of St. James of the Marches in Monteprandone, visitors can visit the incorrupt body of St. James.