We know precious little about St James other than in his connection with the mission of St Gregory the Great to the Anglo-Saxons, a part of which, the mission to York, was led by St Paulinus, and that only as recounted by The Venerable Bede.

It is strongly presumed that James, like the other members of the Gregorian mission, was of Italian descent and almost certainly a monk before he came to Britain, although other details of his life such as the dates of his birth and of his arrival in Britain are not known. What is known, though, is that he accompanied Paulinus and Æthelburg to Northumbria. Traditionally this event is dated to 625, although some argue that the mission to Northumbria must have happened before 619.

It seems that Paulinus was a Roman missionary to England who later became the first Bishop of York and also a Bishop of Rochester, where he died. He was a member of the Gregorian mission sent in 601 by Pope Gregory the 1st to convert the Anglo-Saxons from paganism  to Christianity, and arrived in England round about the year 604 with the second missionary group.

Bede describes Paulinus as "a man tall of stature, a little stooping, with black hair and a thin face, a hooked and thin nose, his aspect both venerable and awe-inspiring". It is probable that Bede obtained this description of Paulinus from James the Deacon, who was said to be still alive in Bede's time.

Little is known of their activities during the following two decades after their arrival in England (James probably arrived some years after Paulinus), except that they spent some years in Kent. Then, in or about 625 they accompanied Æthelburg, sister of King Eadbald of Kent, on her journey to Northumbria where she was to marry King Edwin. Paulinus eventually succeeded in converting Edwin to Christianity along with many of Edwin's subjects including the future Saint Hilda of Whitby and he also built some churches in the area.

It is reported by Bede that Paulinus' words that finally attracted Edwin and his people to Christianity were:

"This is how the present life of man on Earth, King, appears to me in comparison with that time which is unknown to us. You are sitting feasting with your ealdormen and thegns in winter time. The fire is burning on the hearth in the middle of the hall and all inside is warm, while outside the wintry storms of rain and snow are raging - and a sparrow flies swiftly through the hall. It enters in at one door and quickly flies out through the other. For the few moments it is inside, the storm and wintry tempest cannot touch it, but after the briefest moment of calm, it flits from your sight, out of the wintry storm and into it again.So this life of man appears but for a momnet. What follows or, indeed, what went before, we know not at all."

Bede also tells how, at their royal villa of Yeverin in Northumberland, Edwin and his Queen entertained Paulinus for five weeks, during which time he spent the whole of each day, from morning until nightfall, instructing and baptizing the crowds that flocked to him. It can be assumed that his accolyte, James, was similarly engaged in catechising the masses.

Along with St. James the Deacon, Paulinus is said to have baptised other converts  to Christianity in the Trent at Littleborough in Nottinghamshire and also to have founded Southwell Minster in the same county.

There is also strong evidence of a song school having been established next to the wooden church in York during St Paulinus's reign (AD 627-633) and it is generally accepted that its headmaster was James the Deacon whom. Bede called a man of "great zeal and renown".

However, the new Christian era ushered in by Paulinus with James, along with the period of relative peace that accompanied it, came to a rather abrupt and cruel end about six years after their arrival in the area.

Edwin, who had been the main supporter and benefactor of Paulinus' mission, was defeated and killed in 633 in battle at Hatfield fighting against a coalition of forces led by Penda of Mercia and Caedwalla.of Wales. With his death Edwin's kingdom fragmented into at least two parts followed by a sharp decline in Christianity in Northumbria due to the pagan backlash which set in when Edwin's immediate successors reverted to paganism. Bede further tells us that after Edwin's death (and what we now know to be the subsequent return to paganism), Paulinus and Æthelburg fled Northumbria, leaving behind James the Deacon.

Although James remained in Northumbria to continue his missionary efforts and where he struggled to rebuild the Roman mission, his efforts being centred in Lincoln, at a church that Paulinus had built there, the remains of which may lie under the church of St. Paul-in-the-Bail. This was in the dependent kingdom of Lindsey, where Paulinus had preached prior to Edwin's death, and which was reconquered by one of Edwin's successors, Oswald of Northumbria in the 640s.

Bede tells us "Paulinus had left behind him in his Church at York, James the Deacon, a holy ecclesiastic, who continuing long after in that church, by teaching and baptizing, rescued much prey from the power of the old enemy of mankind; from whom the village, where he mostly resided, near Catterick, which bears his name to this day" (i.e. Bede's day. I have tried searching for it on modern maps but the only reference I can find, not necessarily relevant, is to a 'James Lane' near the the village of Tunstall, not far from Catterick). Bede also reports that James undertook missionary work in the area and lived to a great age.

During the reign of King Oswiu of Northumbria, James attended the royal court, where he celebrated Easter with Oswiu's queen, Eanflæd, Edwin's daughter. Both James and Eanflæd celebrated Easter on the date used by the Roman church, which led to conflicts with Oswiu, who celebrated Easter on the date calculated by the Irish church. These dates did not always agree, and was one of the reasons that Oswiu called the Synod of Whitby in 664 to decide which system of Easter calculation his kingdom would use.

According to this same account by Bede', James was present at the Synod of Whitby and that after the synod, and its subsequent acceptance of Roman ecclesiastical customs, James, being a trained singing master in the Roman and Kentish style, taught many people plainsong or Gregorian chant according to the Roman manner.

Although his date of death is unknown, Bede implies that James was still alive during his lifetime. This presumably means that he died some time after Bede's birth, possibly sometime around 671 or 672, which would indicate that he was at least 70 years old at the time of his death. It has been suggested that James was Bede's informant for the life of Edwin, the works of Paulinus, and perhaps also for the Synod of Whitby. In his account of the times, the historian Frank Stenton has called James "the one heroic figure in the Roman mission". This reflects the fact that many of the Gregorian missionaries had a habit of fleeing when things went wrong whereas James remained steadfast.

On my conversion to Orthodoxy I took the name of James the Deacon and so he became my co-patron saint along with St Paul. His feast day is the 17th of August.

Compiled by James (Paul) Shipgood from accounts in Wikipedia and elsewhere. Further reading on St Paulinus, along with the account of St James, can be found in Wikipedia and a brief account of St James from the website of the (Anglican) Parish Church of St James the Deacon.