Sunday, November 27, 2016

Saint James Cut-in-Pieces

Although it's liturgically superseded because of Sunday, today is the memorial of an interesting saint: St. James the Mutilated, usually known in the West as St. James Intercisus. Intercisus is Latin for 'severed', i.e., cut into separate pieces.

According to legend, St. James Intercisus was a Persian soldier in the army of Yazdegerd I. Yazdegerd was a fairly peaceful king, all told, but completely incapable of handling the rising religious tensions in the Sassanid Empire. The result was that while he was fairly generous to Christians at first, he began cracking down on them very hard late in his reign. St. James was from a Christian family, but he apostatized when Yazdegerd began taking harsher measures against Christians.

Yazdegerd eventually died (possibly assassinated, but nobody knows for sure), and he was succeeded by Bahram V, who intensified the persecutions of Christians. In the meantime, St. James returned to the faith (his family had always been constant), and when interrogated about it, insisted that he was Christian. He was therefore executed, and the form of the execution gives him his name: he was cut into twenty-eight pieces, starting from the extremities. He survived the loss of his limbs, and was killed by the final cut, which beheaded him.

The persecutions under Bahram were very severe, as one might expect from St. James's case, and a number of people who were marked for execution escaped and fled to the Roman Empire, which had been engaged in a series of diplomatic spats with the Sasanians. When the Persians came to demand that they be returned, Theodosius II decided it was better just to go to war. Thus began the Roman–Sassanid war of 421–422. The Romans had the upper hand throughout most of the war, but invasions by the Huns forced them to fall back and settle for a peace treaty guaranteeing freedom of worship.

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