Our Person of the Week for this week is James the Deacon, who presumably came to Deira with Bishop Paulinus of York in c. 625. He was left behind in Deira when Bishop Paulinus, Queen Æthelburgh and royal children fled to Kent sometime shortly after King Edwin’s death on 12 October 633.
Bede reports that his main habitation was at a village near Catterick. This could be near the royal estate, also near Catterick, where Paulinus baptized in the River Swale. In Bede’s time, the village was called after James. It is possible that James remained in Catterick to care for converts from Paulinus’ mass baptism. If he did remain near Catterick caring for locals, one wonders if he was left behind because he simply wasn’t in York when the evacuation occurred.
Bede says that “when peace was restored to the kingdom and the number of believers grew, he also began to instruct many in singing after the manner of Rome and the Kentish people”. So Bede is not claiming that James was an evangelist. He only began to teach after the numbers of believers grew. I suspect that James had to lay low during the time of Bishop Aidan. Bede does claim that James continued to observe the Roman rites and customs, including the date of Easter.
Once Roman advocates began to build during the time of King Alhfrith, James would have become quite the celebrity, one of the few who personally knew (Arch)Bishop Paulinus. It is odd that for all his years of service and his celebrity in the 660s, James apparently was not ordained to the priesthood. His main value may have been as a witness to Paulinus’ mission. Bede records that James the Deacon and Queen Eanflæd’s priest Romanus were on the side of Wilfrid and Bishop Agilbert at the Synod of Whitby. The date of James’ death has not survived.
Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book II Chapters 14 and 20, Book III Chapter 25.