Saint Jude Thaddeus


 First Century

Feast Day: October 28

Patron of: impossible causes

Invoked: in times of desperation

Symbol: Flame over head, club, cloth with image of Jesus

“…in accordance with his surname Thaddeus (meaning generous or loving), he will show himself most willing to give help.”

               Bridget of Sweden, 15th century

              Saint Jude was one of the original 12 apostles of Jesus. During his lifetime, his compassion and love for others was profoundly evident. Now, thousands of years after his death, his relief aid in seemingly hopeless situations ensures his place as one of the most popular and invoked saints in the world.

                      Jude Thaddeus was said to be a cousin of Jesus and the brother of James the Less. As an apostle of Christ, Jude learned first-hand the power of God to bring about healing and protection for what some might call “lost causes”. The most intriguing example can be found in the legends of Edessa (a city in Mesopotamia).  As the story goes, King Abgar suffered greatly from leprosy and, desperate for relief, wrote a letter to Christ saying,  “I have heard about you and the cures you effect, that you do this without medicaments or herbs, and that with a word you cause the blind to see, the lame to walk, lepers to be cleansed and the dead to live again. Having heard all this, I have decided in my mind that you are either a god and have come down from heaven to do what you do, or you are the Son of God and so do these things…” 

        Jesus was happy that King Abgar believed in Him without even seeing Him; however,  He did not have time to visit the king. When the king realized he would never see Christ Himself, he sent an artist to draw a portrait. The artist was so overcome with the radiance emanating from Christ’s eyes, his hands shook and he could not accomplish his task. Jesus took a cloth and wiped and His face in it, leaving His image imprinted in the cloth. Jude was sent back to Edessa to present this portrait to the king who rubbed in on his own body and was instantly cured of his disease.

            In a different version of the story, Jude presented the burial cloth of Christ to King Agbar by carrying the precious material  seared with Christ’s image, folded up as a portrait. The king was cured when he touched the shroud. His subsequent baptism by Jude established Christianity in Edessa. Jude’s role as a helper to the despondent was sealed, as was his influence in this region of the world. The shroud, of course, has become  known as the Holy Shroud of Turin.

             After the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, Jude and the apostle Simon were sent back to Mesopotamia (present day Iraq), Persia, Armenia and Southern Russia to preach. They became popular with the local population for their keen intellect, clever dialogue and the amusing ways in which they outwitted sorcerers and magicians in public discourses and arguments. When invited to choose, as was the custom of the day, how their losing antagonists were to be executed, Jude and Simon would reply, “We are not here to kill the living but to bring the dead back to life.” They would then joyfully preach the message of Christ, converting thousands at a time.

            Jude and Simon were not without detractors, however, and in the Epistle of Jude, his only writings to survive him, Jude exhorts recent converts in the East in 60 AD, to stay strong in the face of persecution and to persevere through harsh and difficult circumstances. These persecutions caught up with both Simon and Jude just five years later when they were martyred together for their evangelizing. Today, their relics are buried under the main altar of Saint Peter’s Basilica.

             Over the centuries Saint Jude became confused with Judas Iscariot, the apostle who sold Christ for 30 pieces of silver. ( In many instances, to avoid this confusion, he is referred to as “Thaddeus” in the writings of the evangelists.) Because he shared a name with such a notorious character few Christians invoked Saint Jude for help. The mystical saints Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th Century and Bridget of Sweden in the 15th were exceptions. According to a vision, Jesus told Saint Bridget of Sweden to dedicate an altar to Saint Jude, because “in accordance with his surname, Thaddeus (meaning generous or loving) he will show himself most willing to give help.”        

            Few Catholics took these words seriously until the 19th Century when a tradition began that when Saint Jude would answer the most impossible of prayers, the petitioner in tuen, must thank the saint in a public way. The advent of inexpensive newspapers made this obligation possible and to this day,  weekly and daily periodicals all have their share of “Thank you Saint Jude” personal ads. Perhaps the grandest gesture of public thanks to this saint is the world- famous Saint Jude’s Children Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. It was built by the entertainer Danny Thomas as a tribute to Jude for answering his prayers when he was struggling to support his family. This hospital serves children with “hopelessly incurable diseases” and has become a groundbreaking research institution, saving the innumerable young lives on its premises and even more internationally through its discoveries. From its great success, the name Saint Jude has become a common name for research hospitals all over the world.

                Since he was present at the Pentecost Saint Jude is always depicted with the flame of the Holy Spirit over his head. His principal attribute is the cloth with Christ’s image, sometimes displayed on his body in a medallion form. He carries the club or axe he was beaten to death with and also displays the palms of  the   martyr.                                                                          

                                                                Prayer to Saint Jude


                                    Saint Jude, glorious Apostle, faithful servant and

                                    friend of Jesus,

                                    The name of the traitor has caused you to be forgotten

                                    by many,

                                    But the true Church in invokes you universally as the patron

                                    Of things despaired of; pray for me,

                                    that I may receive the consolations and the help of

                                    heaven in all my necessities, tribulations and sufferings,

                                    particularly (here make your request) and that I

                                    may bless God with the elect throughout eternity.

                                    St. Jude, Apostle, martyr and cousin of our Lord Jesus Christ,

                                    intercede for us. Amen.

Excerpted from the book: “Saints:Ancient and Modern”  by Barbara Calamari and Sandra DiPasqua.

Image: Saint Jude by El Greco

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