St Philip and St James (the Less)

Commemorated on 1 May

A hymn to sing along with…

In the 6th century, a church was built in Rome and dedicated on 1 May (not sure which year) to St Philip and St James (it was later renamed the Church of the Twelve Holy Apostles). The supposed relics of the two saints were re-buried in the church, which is the reason for the choice of 1 May as the day when both saints are commemorated. The original church was ruined in the earthquake of 1348 and has been rebuilt and renovated over the following centuries.

St Philip the Apostle features mostly in St John’s Gospel. There is disagreement among scholars as to whether he is the same person as St Philip the Evangelist who met and baptised the Ethiopian eunuch on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. (This Philip is commemorated by some denominations on 11 October.)
Here are two texts from the Acts of the Apostles, which may explain why there are differing opinions. The first is just after the Apostles have witnessed Jesus’ Ascension:

And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James.

Acts 1.13

… and the second is when the early church decided it was necessary to appoint seven deacons:

Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:  Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.

Acts 6.3-6

In verse three of the hymn the phrase “The lore from Philip once concealed” refers to:

Philip saith unto him, Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake…

John 14.8-11

The Gospels tell us that there were two of the Twelve Apostles named James. They are known as “the Great” and “the Less”, these terms relating to their age or physical stature rather than their importance. There are a number of references to James (the Less) in the new Testament; he may have been a cousin of Jesus. Scholars differ as to whether St James the Less was the author of the Epistle of James, but the Protestant reformer John Calvin accepted his authorship, as evidently did the hymn-writer.

This is another hymn with words written by Irish-born Cecil Frances Alexander née Humphreys (1818-1895), wife of Revd William Alexander, who later became Archbishop of Armagh. She wrote many well-known hymns. A number of the hymns she wrote for children are still popular today, including Once in royal David’s city, There is a green hill far away and All things bright and beautiful.

The tune chosen to accompany the words is Wareham by William Knapp (1698-1768). It is familiar as the tune to Jesus where’er thy people meet. Knapp was a glover by trade and the parish clerk of Poole parish church from 1728. Although his work was very popular in his lifetime, this is the only one of his tunes in regular use these days.


There is one way, and only one,
out of our gloom, and sin, and care,
to that fair land where shines no sun
because the face of God is there.

There is one truth, the truth of God,
that Christ came down from heaven to show,
one life that His redeeming blood
has won for all His saints below.

The lore, from Philip once concealed,
we know its fulness now in in Christ;
in Him the Father is revealed,
and all our longing is sufficed.

And still unwavering faith holds sure
the words that James wrote sternly down;
except we labour and endure,
we cannot win the heavenly crown.

O Way divine, through gloom and strife,
bring us Thy Father’s face to see;
O heavenly Truth, O precious Life,
at last, at last, to rest in Thee.

  • Helen Buchanan on St Philip and St James (the Less)Thank you for all this fascinating information and for your continued education of us all. The more we learn the...

One thought on “St Philip and St James (the Less)”

  1. Thank you for all this fascinating information and for your continued education of us all. The more we learn the less we know but at least you are helping us to keep trying . God be with you on your very important task.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.