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  • The Revd Canon Camellia Flanagan, TSSF

St James the Apostle

210725 Saint James. Matthew 20:20-28 Jeremiah 45 Psalm 126 Acts 11.27-12.3

12th century illustration of St James as a knight (Codex Calixtinis)




In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


First, a little history story. Soon after the early settlers came to this part of the Clarence River, a township was laid out in 1849 and named after the third Duke of Grafton who was the grandfather of Governor-General Fitzroy. At this time there was no thought for the original owners, the people of the Bundjalung, Gumbaynggrr and Yaegl communities who shared the land, not as individual owners but as owners in common. They had no need for surveyors, plans or fences for thousands of years. The first land sale took place in the early 1850s, a school opened in 1852 and the first Anglican church in 1854. The population, by 1856, had grown by 1069 new settlers.


Twenty years later the original foundation stone of this Cathedral was laid in 1874 on this sacred indigenous land and has been lost to history, the site being overgrown with vegetation. One wonders if some geophysics tech search could find it. The site was cleared and a start made in 1880 to build the Cathedral. The part of the Cathedral completed in 1884 comprised the choir, sanctuary, transept and part of the nave, all as designed by John Horbury Hunt the Architect. The intention faithfully carried out more than 50 years later, was that the cathedral ultimately be completed in accordance with the total Hunt design. The building was not to be a scaled-down version trimmed to fit available funds. Rather, it was decided for the nave to end for the time being, with a temporary west wall, when the money ran out. The Cathedral to be opened and dedicated on St James day 25 July 1884 was, even so an impressive building.


The next year, 1885 Grafton was proclaimed a city by virtue of being the seat of a Church of England bishop. This association between having a cathedral and being called a city was established in the early 1540s when King Henry VIII founded dioceses (each having a cathedral in the see city) in six English towns and granted them city status by issuing letters patent. This status changed in 2016, because of the implementation of the North Coast Regional Plan 2036. But we are still known as Jacaranda City. It is not known what the cost of the first part of the building was but suffice to say that it was dedicated (not consecrated) because money was owed for its construction.


Today we celebrate and give thanks for the foresight and generosity of those who have gone before us in choosing not to compromise the fine architecture – way ahead of its time – that makes our Cathedral unique. The original design has never been completed but perhaps in the future, the vision, the will, and the generosity will be here so that Grafton Cathedral will continue to be a place of pilgrimage and prayer for future generations of all people whose families form part of the history of this place.

We wonder if there was a particular reason for choosing St James day for the dedication or was it just the nearest Saints Day to when the time was ready for a celebration?


What do we know about Saint James? Jesus singled out three of his 12 disciples for special training. James, his brother John, and Peter, and they all played a significant role in the early church, and we know that James was the first of the 12 disciples to die for the faith. James was the elder brother of the sons of Zebedee who owned a fishing business where they worked with Peter and Andrew. When Peter and Andrew left Galilee and their fishing to see John the Baptist, James stayed with the boats and fishing nets. Later, when Jesus called them, James was as eager as the others to follow. James enjoyed being in the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples, but he misunderstood Jesus’ purpose and initially thought more of an earthly kingdom than a heavenly, eternal one.

We can learn an important lesson from James’ mother who had the motive to get positions for her sons. True worship adores and praises Christ for who he is and for what he has done for us, not for what we can get. James, John and their mother failed to grasp Jesus previous teachings on rewards and eternal life. They failed to understand the sufferings they would be called to face before living in the eternal glory of God’s kingdom. But they received another lesson about leadership and that the greatest person in God’s kingdom is the one who serves, the one who is the servant of all. We reflect on this and as we look to the future restructured plans for ministry to people in this place, and to ministry to families of the valley and beyond.


There are many legends surrounding Saint James The Acts of the Apostles records that "Herod the king" (traditionally identified with Herod Agrippa) had James executed by the sword. Some suggest that this may have been caused by James's fiery temper, in which he and his brother earned the nickname Boanerges or "Sons of Thunder" and on the cover of our service booklet today you will find a picture of Saint James depicted as a Knight on a white stead.


This was part of a 12th century guide book and advice for pilgrims following the Way of Saint James to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great located in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Galicia (Spain). The collection of 5 books included sermons, reports of miracles and liturgical texts associated with Saint James, and a set of musical pieces for singing in parts. In it are also found descriptions of the route, works of art to be seen along the way, and the customs of the local people Book 3 is the briefest of the five books and describes the translation of Saint James' body from Jerusalem to his tomb in the Cathedral. It also tells of the custom started by the first pilgrims of gathering souvenir seashells from the coastal beaches. The scallop shell is a symbol for pilgrims and for Saint James.


Meanwhile as servants of God we follow Christ who came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. .We also reflect on the injustices and the dispossession of the original custodians of this land and realise that we are all only caretakers of the place in which we live. We ask ourselves, is the care we are taking worthy of the call we have been given, and of the treasure that has been entrusted to us? We give thanks for those who serve others and those who have gone before us. Amen.

The Reverend Canon Camellia Flanagan TSSF

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